Futurology blog: what’s the next trend that’ll disrupt our world, financially, socially or just pointlessly?

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Climate change litigation - even sooner than I thought

£50m in blood money to Bangladesh. Acquittal of the Kingsnorth 6. Being a major carbon emitter may be about to become very, very expensive.

Just two days ago I wrote about the probability that people and nations affected by climate change would try to take the countries, corporations and individuals most responsible for climate change to court.

Well, well, well.

Later that same day Britain agreed to give Bangladesh at least £50m to help them stave off the effects of climate change. International development secretary Douglas Alexander talked about the "moral duty" of developed countries to help countries like Bangladesh adjust to climate change. Perhaps he even meant it. But you can be sure that the deal includes a clause prohibiting Bangladesh from suing the UK for billions more pounds if their flood defenses prove inadequate. For Britain, it's a bargain.

But would it stop Bangladeshi individuals from suing the UK government, whose climate change policies have so far lagged far behind some other EU nations, or from suing the corporations that they have allowed to carry on emitting carbon willy-nilly?

Today, the six Greenpeace protestors arrested for climbing a 200 metre chimney of the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station in Kent, UK, were acquitted of causing criminal damage. They defendants admitted causing the damage, but the jury agreed with their defence: that they were simply trying to prevent energy company E.ON from causing much greater damage to property around the world.

"The jury was told that Kingsnorth emits the same amount of CO2 as the 30 least polluting countries in the world combined – and that there are advanced plans to build a new coal-fired power station next to the existing site on the Hoo Peninsula in Kent."

It's the first time this defence has been used in a case of this kind. It won't be the last. But more importantly, it'll make it very attractive for people who believe that their property has been damaged by the activities of large-scale carbon emitters to attempt to take them to court.

There must be a lot of nervous CEOs out there. Shareholders, watch out.

No comments: