Can the courts fix climate change? Several groups and individuals around the United States have gone to court to try to do what the Trump administration has so far declined to do: confront the causes and effects of global warming. In California, two counties and a city recently sued 37 fossil fuel companies, seeking funds to cover the costs of dealing with a warming world. In Oregon, a federal lawsuit brought on behalf of young people is moving toward a February trial date, though the so-called children’s suit could be tossed out before that. And more than a dozen state attorneys general have sued to block Trump administration moves to roll back environmental regulations.
Efforts in the United States are part of a wave of litigation around the world, including a 2015 decision in which a court in the Netherlands ordered the Dutch government to toughen its climate policies; that case is under appeal. A 2017 report from the United Nations Environment Program found nearly 900 climate litigation suits in more than 20 countries. In Switzerland, a group of nearly 800 older women known as Senior Women for Climate Protection have sued their government over climate change. In New Zealand, a court recently heard a climate case brought by a law student, Sarah Lorraine Thomson; a decision is pending. But in the United States, lawsuits to get American courts to take on the climate fight have until now gone nowhere. In 2011, the Supreme Court threw out a case filed by eight states and New York City against electric power producers. A lawsuit brought by inhabitants of Kivalina, Alaska, against fossil fuel companies over the diminished buffer of sea ice that had protected the town was dismissed by a federal judge in 2009. A federal appeals court and the Supreme Court declined to reinstate the case.