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Greenpeace News: Bring on the judges!

Bring on the judges!

Buenos Aires, Argentina, 16 December 2004 - Climate liability and litigation in ten cases covering seven countries around the world is highlighted today at United Nations climate talks. These initiatives have been taken by fourteen US States, twenty-eight NGOs and others to enforce the law to combat climate change, and have the collaborative support of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth International and WWF.

Since the first case in 2002 against the US export credit bodies, legal action on climate change has increased over the last six months under a widening range of legal theories, underpinned by strong science. According to Climate Justice Programme Co-Director, Peter Roderick, this trend will continue and intensify until big emission cuts are made and compensation paid.

"Climate law enforcement has begun in earnest, and the courts have already responded positively. The legal relevance of climate change has now been accepted by US and Australian judges where decisions leading to more coal mining and electricity transmission were found to be illegal. And a Californian appeals judge has rejected the idea of "injury to all is injury to none" where global environmental impact is threatened by a federal statutory wrong, he said.

The 'detection and attribution' science was strengthened recently when leading scientists concluded with more than 90% confidence that human influence at least doubled the risk of last year's European heat wave. [Stott, et al.; "Human contribution to the European heatwave of 2003", Nature, Vol. 432, page 610, 2 December 2004]

Last month, the range of theories broadened to include public international law when an alliance of NGOs and individuals, including the Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy, Foro Ecologico del Peru and Pro Public (Friends of the Earth Nepal), submitted petitions to have world heritage glaciers and coral reefs placed on UNESCO's Danger List because of climate change.

Climate change is having a devastating effect on the world's glaciers. Huarascán National Park, located in the Cordillera Blanca in the Peruvian Andes, is the world's highest tropical mountain range. It is the home of the spectacled bear and the Andean condor. More than 20% of the glacial coverage has been lost in the Peruvian Andes since 1968, and melting glaciers form lakes which could burst. Glacial retreat is expected to reduce water availability, affecting food security and power generation, which in Peru is almost 70% hydropower.

"It is both unfair and unnecessary for communities in developing countries to remain the passive victims of damaging corporate activities and of inadequate governmental response in the developed world." said Roderick "One thing is clear. For as long as politicians and industry refuse to make the big cuts in emissions that are needed, and to compensate those facing damage, the judges will be asked to sort it out" concluded Roderick.



December 2004

Summary of legal actions

This document provides more information on 10 legal actions that have been

announced around the world under several different legal theories in order to

combat climate change. The 10 actions have been grouped together by legal



The five actions detailed below (from the United States of America, Australia,

Germany and Argentina) are aimed at the decisions or omissions of public


In the United States of America, NGOs and affected individuals have been joined by the cities of Boulder, Oakland and Arcata in suing the US export credit agencies for funding fossil fuel projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has illegally provided over $32 billion in financing and insurance for oil fields, pipelines and coal-fired power plants over the past 10 years without assessing their contribution to global warming, or their impact on the US environment as required under NEPA the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). More information is here:

In addition, twelve US states, several cities, and over a dozen environmental

groups today, are suing the Bush administration´s Environmental Protection

Agency´s failure to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

More information is here:

In Australia, NGOs challenged a minister´s power to prevent a planning body from considering greenhouse gas emissions before deciding to approve a coal mine expansion. The judge agreed with the NGOs and said that these emissions must be taken into account.

More information here:

Copy of the judgment here:

In Germany, NGOs have begun legal action against the German government´s secret export credit support for fossil fuel projects since 1997.

More information is here:

"After the 2003 Santa Fe floods in Argentina which killed many people and caused millions of dollars of damage, citizens have successfully used Article 6 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change alongside the "Acción Informativa" mechanism to reveal official failure to adapt to climate change. The legal action has so far revealed that infrastructure changes needed to protect people had been drawn up but not acted upon by the authorities."


The first civil law case was brought by eight US States, New York City and NGOs in July 2004 against the five biggest US power companies. The plaintiffs argue that the huge emissions from the defendants´power plants are a public nuisance and that the court should order them to be reduced.

More information is here:


The Inuit Circumpolar Conference has announced that it is developing a human rights case against the Bush Administration at the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. They will argue that the impacts in the Arctic of human-induced climate change infringe upon the environmental, subsistence, and other human rights of Inuit.

More information is here:


In November 2004, petitions from Belize, Nepal and Peru were submitted by NGOs and individuals to the World Heritage Committee to place world heritage glaciers and coral reefs on the List of World Heritage in Danger as a result of climate change.

Danger-listing is a legal mechanism under the UNESCO World Heritage Convention requiring an increased level of protection where the best parts of the planet are facing serious and significant threats. The petitions argue that that the Committee must address both the causes and impacts of climate change when drawing up the required programme for corrective measures, in order to ensure that the legal duty on States under Article 4 of the Convention to transmit

World Heritage Sites to future generations will not be complied with. The three petitions cover the Belize Barrier Reef, the Huarascán National Park in Peru and the Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park in Nepal.

More information and copies of the petitions are here:


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