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More climate change human rights cases will be brought in 2023

  • Market Insight 16 December 2022 16 December 2022
  • Insurance 2023 - the year ahead

Governments and corporates will face an increasing number of damages claims

As discussion of the climate emergency escalates, communities are becoming increasingly frustrated by the perceived lack of action from governments and large corporations. To expedite climate policy changes, NGOs are attempting to hold national governments to account for alleged violations of human rights.   

A significant milestone occurred in September 2022, when the United Nations Human Rights Committee found that the Australian government had violated the human rights of a group of Indigenous islanders by failing to protect them against the impacts of climate change. This is the first known damages award against a state on the basis that climate change equates to a breach of basic rights. 

Another important case is proceeding in Europe. In Agostinho v. Portugal, six Portuguese youths have commenced proceedings against all state signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights, alleging that climate change is a violation of Articles 2 (right to life), 8 (right to integrity of family home) and 14 (right to non-discrimination). The Council of Europe Commission of Human Rights has published preliminary findings indicating a likely finding of breach. The claimants do not seek financial compensation, but damages awards are likely to become the objective of future cases. 

If a breach is established there may be several consequences. The first is that governments will have to take immediate action to tighten climate policy to bring the Paris agreement and international obligations into national law.

Second, we may begin to see damages claims being commenced against governments. 

Third, similar tactics may be used to claim against large corporations, as happened in the Milieudefensie v Shell case in The Netherlands. 

A decision on the Agostinho case is expected early next year and could lead to a significant increase in rights violation cases directly against states and indirectly involving large corporations. 

View all our Insurance 2023 Predictions here

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