Click here for the full human rights and climate change case chart, which tracks rights-based climate cases globally.

Casebook Studies

Casebook10 Smith

Smith v. Fonterra Co-Operative Group Ltd.

In 2020, an Indigenous New Zealander sued a collection of greenhouse gas emitting corporations based in New Zealand, arguing that their contributions to climate change harmed him and interfered with his rights such that the respondent corporations were responsible for three torts (public nuisance, negligence, and breach of duty of care). The New Zealand courts, however, were largely unsympathetic to the plaintiff’s claims and ultimately dismissed all three of his tort claims as untenable. This case is currently on appeal.

Casebook09 Sharma

Sharma v. Minister for the Environment

In September 2020, a group of young people filed a petition in an Australian court to prevent the Minister for the Environment from approving a coal mine expansion project, arguing that approval of this project would violate a duty of care that the Minister owed the youth plaintiffs. The Federal Court of Australia initially established an important precedent, finding that the Minister for the Environment – part of the executive branch of the Australian government – must take reasonable care to avoid causing personal injury to at least Australian children when deciding whether or not the coal mine expansion project should be approved. In other words, the Court recognized that the Minister for the Environment owed the youth plaintiffs a duty of care when it came to fossil fuel projects.

In a setback for the plaintiffs, however, the Court later reversed this finding in an appeal by the Minister for the Environment, concluding that the previous judge erred in recognizing such a duty. The evolution of this case serves as a reminder that bad outcomes are still a real possibility in climate litigation, even in instances where rulings are initially quite promising.

Casebook08 Sacchi

Sacchi v. Argentina

As part of the broader youth climate movement, sixteen youth climate activists filed a petition with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, claiming that five countries – Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey – violated the children’s rights and failed to satisfy their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Committee ultimately dismissed the petition on procedural grounds (failure to exhaust domestic remedies), but not before setting some positive precedent for climate litigation – including that countries can be held accountable for the climate impacts experienced by children outside of their territorial boundaries.

Casebook07Main Portugal

Duarte Agostinho v. Portugal

In the fall of 2020, six Portuguese children and young adults filed a petition with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) against thirty-three European countries, arguing that the respondent countries’ failure to adequately address climate change as well as their own contributions to it violated the young people’s rights guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights. The plaintiffs advance important legal arguments, which – if accepted by the Court – have the potential to bolster litigation both in Europe and around the world. The case is currently pending before the Court.