Climate Litigation

A gavel sits on a desk

The Issue

The judicial branch is increasingly faced with cases relating to climate change damages and policy. The role of the judicial branch in climate change policy has been expanding as lawsuits have proliferated over recent years. For example, the judicial branch has an important role in federal climate policy, including Supreme Court decisions such as Massachusetts v. EPA. Climate-related court cases have involved a range of federal statutes (e.g. the Clean Air Act, Endangered Species and Other Wildlife Protection Statutes, Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act), constitutional claims, state law claims, common law claims, public trust claims and securities and financial regulations. These cases often involve consideration of climate science and health information, but there is also as often a disconnect between scientific evidence and how that information is used in judicial settings.

CHI Research & Action

CHI faculty are researching multiple perspectives related to how evidence from climate and health sciences are used in climate-related court cases. Our research has shown that courts are a central avenue for developing climate-related policy in the U.S., with an evolving role of science in cases brought and eventual judgments. A study of climate-related court decisions determined that courts favor an anti-regulatory stance compared to a pro-regulatory stance at a rate of 14 to 1, with an exception being made for cases addressing renewable energy and energy efficiency. Further, CHI research has found that plaintiffs most often sought after clean air rulings or rulings against coal-fired power plants, despite low success rates until 2019.

Our Experts

Sabrina McCormick 
Associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health
GW Milken Institute School of Public Health

Carlos Santos Burgoa
Professor of Global Health
GW Milken Institute School of Public Health