Corporate Responsibility for Climate Change: Litigation and Other Grievance Mechanisms - By Elisa Chiaro

Editor’s Note: Elisa Chiaro is a legal consultant focussing on Business and Human Rights and International Criminal Law. In 2016 she completed an LL.M. at SOAS, University of London. Before that she worked for five years as international corporate lawyer both in Italy and UK. She is admitted to the Bar in Italy.

1.      Introduction

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”) climate change is real: “[h]uman influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history.”[1]

From a scientific point of view, it is well established that the concentration of greenhouse gases (“GHGs”), which are present in nature and essential for the survival of human beings and plants, is linked to the Earth’s temperature, which has been rising steadily since the Industrial Revolution. From the perspective of public health, according to the WHO, an effect of climate change will be an increase of approximately 250,000 deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 due to malnutrition, disease (such as malaria and diarrhoea) and heat stress.

As will be explained in the following section many international agreements and initiatives have emerged to tackle the problem. However the main goal of this post is to analyse some examples of civil judicial and quasi-judicial means that have been used to hold companies accountable for the effects of climate change. The first category under scrutiny will be litigation brought against private companies, such as in the case Lliuya v. RWE AG brought before the German Court and in American cases brought by public institutions (cities or counties) against oil companies. The second category encompasses other grievance mechanisms, such as the notification to the OECD National Contact Points of violation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (“OECD Guidelines”) by corporations (Dutch NGOs v. ING Bank). More...