COP26: courts could hold power to climate change action



Raphael Heffron

Courtrooms could become crucial in tackling climate change by ensuring large companies commit to cutting carbon emissions, a University of Dundee expert has said.

Raphael Heffron, professor for global energy law and sustainability, said that the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow presents a “once in a lifetime” opportunity for policymakers and scholars to develop legal frameworks capable of forcing multinational companies to meet international targets.

Professor Heffron said a recent court case in the Netherlands has highlighted a potential means by which legislatures could force corporate entities to meet the terms of the Paris Agreement, the legally binding climate change treaty signed by almost all nation states in 2016. He has addressed the matter in a recent article published in Nature.

“The world cannot wait for other courtrooms to replicate the action taken in the Netherlands,” he said.

“As we approach COP26, this summit presents a once in a lifetime opportunity for policymakers and scholars to work together to advance research on policy options that have a more immediate impact.

“The fight against climate change requires a revolution, with national courts given the power to accelerate the transition to cleaner energy.

“We are already seeing a desire in some countries for changing the rules which govern the activities of energy multinationals. Instead of allowing companies to apply their own social responsibility strategies, lawmakers are threatening to flex their muscles and link corporate activity with human rights.

“That means a future where energy companies will have to consider human rights issues across the energy lifecycle, from extraction, to production, to operation and supply, to consumption and finally to decommissioning and waste management.

“If governments are serious about protecting our planet for future generations, the activity of polluters must be intrinsically linked to its impact on the citizens of the world.”