A 2007 U.N. report with stronger evidence that humans are causing global warming is likely to spur more lawsuits around the world such as a case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, a legal expert said.
Lawsuits from Australia to California are already testing how far courts agree with most scientists’ view that human activities — led by burning fossil fuels in power plants, factories and vehicles — are warming the planet.
“We’re going to get more and more of these cases,” Peter Roderick, director of the Climate Justice Program, which is linked to environmental group Friends of the Earth, told Reuters on Tuesday.
“The stronger the evidence of human influence gets, the more relevant the question will be for courts,” he said. Some lawyers, he said, viewed climate as the next billion-dollar source of litigation after tobacco or asbestos.
Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the panel of climate scientists that advises the United Nations, has said a report due in early 2007 will have “far more robust” evidence that human activities are warming the planet.
In one of the most important U.S. environmental cases in decades, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday over whether a dozen states, three cities and several environmental groups can force the government to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide from cars and trucks.
The justices will review an appeals court ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency does not have to regulate vehicle emissions. The 12 states say that carbon dioxide should be regulated as a pollutant.
California suing 6 of world's largest automakers
Roderick said he welcomed a court ruling in Australia this week ordering greater consideration of greenhouse gas emissions when deciding whether to allow new coal mines such as one at Anvil Hill in New South Wales.
And he said the most far-reaching climate lawsuit was by the state of California, which is suing six of the world’s biggest automakers, charging that greenhouse gases from their vehicles have caused billions of dollars in damage.
California said in September it wants compensation to help deal with reduced snow in the Sierra Nevada, beach erosion, ozone pollution and threats to wildlife it says are linked to rising temperatures.
“If you want to begin damages cases you are going to have to show impacts within the jurisdiction of the court,” Roderick said. Pachauri’s 2007 report will give details of how warming is affecting different regions of the planet.
Most industrialized nations are members of the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol, which caps emissions of carbon dioxide. President Bush pulled out in 2001, saying Kyoto wrongly excluded developing nations and would threaten U.S. jobs.
The new Democratic-led Congress says it will work for caps.
Roderick predicted that any U.S. emissions caps were likely to be accompanied by legislation limiting liability. He said the Kyoto Protocol might some day get a new section with a ceiling on compensation — from droughts, heat waves or rising seas.
“If you look at the international compensation mechanisms there is always a cap — such as oil pollution, nuclear liability. The world mustn’t crash to a halt by making people bankrupt,” he said.