Carbon Emitters Face Higher Legal Risks
Climate change risk for big companies − and their investors − is often seen in terms of physical risk: sea level rise, temperature increases, or extreme weather events. But a spate of court cases around the world has highlighted a different kind of risk. Carbon emitters, and the big investors that support them, could find themselves on the wrong end of the law if they don’t take action on climate change.
18 September, 2019 − When, two weeks ago, a New Zealand environmental activist started court action against our top carbon emitters, Kiwi companies became just the latest to find themselves under fire for not doing enough to stop climate change.
Mike Smith, chair of the Climate Change Kiwi Leaders Group, hopes to force Fonterra, Genesis Energy, NZ Steel, NZ Refining, Z Energy, Dairy Holdings, and BT Mining to reduce their total net greenhouse gases by 50 percent by 2030. Then he wants them to get them to zero by 2050.
Smith’s action follows a case in Australia last year where a 23-year-old ecology graduate is suing his superannuation provider − $A50 billion fund REST − for not telling him what it’s doing to protect his savings from the impact of climate change.
The year before, two Commonwealth Bank of Australia shareholders launched court action against the bank for not adequately disclosing climate change risks in its 2016 annual report.
In the US a group of fishing companies are suing oil giant Chevron and others for their contribution to climate change. And the state of New York is suing Exxon Mobil for misleading investors over the company’s climate change risks.
And these are not isolated cases.
In its climate change litigation update, released earlier this year, the US’ second largest law firm, Norton Rose Fulbright, said the number of climate change-related cases has now reached more than 1300.
The majority of these are against governments, and so affect business only indirectly.
But increasingly, companies are also being taken to court.
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