The Significance of the Worldwide Surge in Climate Change Cases

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Climate adaptation Climate Change Cases Are Surging Around the World

From the Pacific Island youth fighting for their future and nation’s survival, Switzerland’s Senior Women suing for their, their children and grandchildren’s human right to life and health, to Montana kids taking the state to court for allowing and permitting GHG spewing projects to ruin the environment, climate change cases are growing across the world led by those who are most affected by the consequences of the climate crisis. 

Green Peace reports the work of Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change (PISFCC), and the KlimaSeniorinnen or the Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland seek to clarify the state’s obligations in the context of climate change as they affect the lives and future of their communities.

The Pacific Island Students seeks an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on climate change and human rights.

According to the PISFCC briefing document, “Due to the status of the ICJ as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, they carry great legal weight and moral authority. They are often an instrument of preventive diplomacy and help to keep the peace.”

As the world is seeing the consequences of climate change wreaking havoc worldwide, and its impacts disproportionally affect poor and vulnerable countries, it is driving them to renew calls for urgent actions from the governments and the most significant carbon polluters.

The question proposed by the Republic of Palau in 2011 to the ICJ was, “What are the obligations under international law of a State for ensuring that activities under its jurisdiction or control that emit greenhouse gases do not cause, or substantially contribute to, serious damage to another State or States?” That question is explained and justified in the report Climate Change and the International Court of Justice.

This time, the Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change is asking, “What are the obligations of States under international law to protect the rights of present and future generations against the adverse effects of climate change?”

An ICJ advisory opinion on a broad legal question of climate change could contribute to climate negotiations, bolder action, and intra- and inter-generational equity.

The Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland (KlimaSeniorinnen) are taking the Swiss government to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg because heatwaves exacerbated by climate change threaten their health.

Elisabeth Stern, a movement member, wrote in her Greenpeace article, “It was always important to us to do something that would also have a positive effect on our younger generations. They are the future, not us. If, because of our particular vulnerability, we can still contribute to the conditions needed for an environment where our children and grandchildren can thrive, that simply makes me happy.”

Times reports that 16 plaintiffs ages five to 22 had filed a court case against the state of Montana in Held vs the State of Montana. “A first-of-its-kind trial in which the youths sued the state, arguing that the government was violating their right to a clean and healthy environment and that their generation will bear a greater burden from climate change than the adults doing the damage,” the report says.

The plaintiff aimed a vital portion of the state’s environmental law passed in 2011 that forbids officials in the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) from considering GHG emissions when permitting coal-mine or GHG-emitting projects. They argue that not only are those laws misguided, but they are unconstitutional.

During his opening statement, Assistant Attorney General Michael Russell countered that Montana’s emissions are “simply too minuscule” to make a difference in the climate crisis.

However, Montana and neighbouring state Wyoming is home to the largest coal deposit in the US and responsible for more than 40% of its coal production, which makes the judge ruling crucial. If the plaintiffs win the suit, the Montana DEQ would have to scrutinize future permitting at the coal basin and limit the amount of extraction there, the article says.

In Oregon, Reuters reports the county of Multnomah is suing oil and coal majors, including Chevron and Exxon, for $50 billion to counter the harms caused by the extreme weather fuelled by climate change, including a 2021 heat wave in the Pacific Northwest that killed dozens.

Multnomah County lawsuit says that these fossil fuel companies and trade groups like the American Petroleum Institute “intentionally deceived the public about the dangers of burning their products for decades,” so they must now pay for their past and future harms.

“The county is seeking $50 million to repay it for its past efforts to protect public health, safety and property from heat waves and wildfires, at least $1.5 billion for future damages and at least $50 billion for an abatement fund to help study and implement mitigation measures to reduce climate-related harms,” the news article says.

Residents of Torres Strait, a shallow reef passage between Australia and Papua New Guinea, are suing the Australian government over the catastrophic consequence of climate change affecting them.

9News reports that residents of Sabai could no longer grow the crops their ancestors have grown for generations, such as taro, cassava, and sweet potato, due to saltwater intrusion.

Aside from ruining their crops, seawater inundation has also threatened their homes and sacred grave sites, leading to some residents planning to relocate permanently.

Uncle Paul, one of the residents, told the 9News, “If Saibai goes underwater, we lose our identity, we lose our culture, and we will be nothing.”

Residents are holding the Australian government legally responsible for their suffering and alleging that they had a duty of care to protect them, which they had failed by not curbing their carbon emissions and not helping Torres Strait Islanders adapt.

“In a 52-page statement of claim, the Torres Strait Islanders, helped by the non-profit Grata Fund, are calling for the court to order the Commonwealth of Australia to reduce the country’s emissions in line with the best available science and protect them from the devastating consequences of climate change.”

They expect the Federal Court of Australia ruling to come in 2024.

The rise of court cases against the fossil fuel industries and governments by countries, states and municipalities worldwide are led by those most vulnerable and disproportionately impacted to raise awareness and seek justice and reparation for the damage and harms the changing climate is causing them.

According to Greenpeace, the outcomes of these proceedings will set a critical precedent for international laws and strategic litigations worldwide.


Fournier, L., Tellness, E., & Rogers, R. (2023, June 21). Why the surge of climate change cases in front of international courts and tribunals matters. Greenpeace. Retrieved from

An International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on Climate Change. Briefing Document. PISFCC 2022. Retrieved from

Stern, E. (2023, March 24). KlimaSeniorinnen: Our shared right to life and health. Greenpeace. Retrieved from

Kluger, J. (2023 June 23). Kids Just Brought Montana To Court Over Climate Change. The Case Could Make Waves Beyond The State. Time. Retrieved from

Mindock, C. (2023, June 23). US climate change lawsuit seeks $50 billion, citing 2021 heat wave. Reuters. Retrieved from

Branco, J. (2023, June 25). Torres Strait Islanders sue Australian government over ‘catastrophic’ climate change risks. 9News. Retrieved from  

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