Courtroom Climate Victories

Judges have started stepping in where regulators fear to tread, delivering high-profile victories to activists who have sued on behalf of nature - and future generations.

The idea of assigning legal rights to nature, which seemed a pipe dream for decades, seems to be gaining traction. As the New York Times noted in its recent obituary for Christopher Stone, his influential 1972 book Should Trees Have Standing? “long seemed out of step with legal reality, but that has begun to change.”


In 2017, courts in New Zealand bestowed legal “personhood” on the Whanganui river and granted the Maori people standing to file protective lawsuits. Likewise, India deemed the Ganges and theYamuna rivers to have the same status as “living human entities” and, last year, Bangladesh did the same for all rivers within its borders, reports Anthropocene Magazine.


Now climate activists have filed hundreds of new cases - some on behalf of future generations- to focus judicial power on carbon emissions. And they have won surprising victories in America, Netherlands, Germany, Australia and France, where an extraordinary, groundbreaking case found the French state guilty of ‘non-respect of its engagements’ aimed at fighting global warming.


All of these recent judgements gives the world hope that the courts will impose tough choices that other branches of government have avoided.


Also, coming down the legislative track, is the new crime of ecocide that is being proposed for the Internation Criminal Court. Ecocide now has a legal definition, paving the way for it to become a fifth international crime, alongside genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.

Today's OGN Sunday Magazine articles: