Can courts help save the planet? In the past decade, individuals and organizations across the globe have brought an increasing number of climate lawsuits. In the US, since the 1990s courts at various levels have heard hundreds of public and private climate litigation cases, which have contributed to the development of climate policy and governance. Yet, it is in Europe and Asia that the most significant breakthroughs have been observed recently, with Courts finding their government guilty of failing to act sufficiently to address climate change. In China as well, although there are only a few cases, climate litigation is increasingly regarded as an important innovation, with a first landmark public interest lawsuit brought by NGOs against grid companies in 2018 to address renewable energy curtailment issues.
These cases have spurred important academic and public debates about the role that litigation can play to hold emitters and governments accountable, about the legal basis for such actions in statutory law, case law, constitutional law, international law and fundamental rights law, as well as about the role of courts in legislative and policy developments to address climate change. Yet, legal systems vary and, although practitioners and scholars have followed and learned from what happens in other jurisdictions, there is still a lack of cross-jurisdictional comparison and global academic dialogue about the role that litigation already plays and could play in climate change governance.
The international seminar organized in hybrid format at Duke Kunshan University on 24 October 2020 brought together 29 international and Chinese scholars and legal practitioners with first-hand experience in climate litigation to meet and exchange about these issues. Through case studies and cross-country analysis spanning the American, European and Asian continents, speakers discussed the potential and limitations of climate litigation as a new channel to combat climate change, including past development and trends, strengths, challenges, and implications. It also provided a unique opportunity for Chinese stakeholders to exchange with international counterparts and share their perspective on domestic environmental litigation.
The conference was attended in person and online by over 80 students from DKU, Duke University and other Universities and organizations. As a follow-up, students from the International Master of Environmental Policy at DKU carried out individual interviews with each of the speakers to explore in more depth their professional background, motivation to engage with climate justice and to hear more from them on some of the ideas or concepts that were put forward and debated at the conference. This website is aimed at making all this material available in English and Chinese to wider audiences.
This event site was prepared by Prof Coraline Goron, who assumes responsibility for any mistakes or shortcomings. We would like to thank Zhixian Luo, Lehe Xu and Xiaohan Cui for their help with the texts;. Xiaohan Cui, Yue Zou, Chenhan Shao, Jiaming liu, Jing Gu, Mengfan Gong, Muye Huang, Rui Jiang, Wenrui Qu, Yufei Dong, Yuhe Jin and Alberto Najarro for their help with transcription and translation; Mingyu Zhou for the design; Jasper Cai from LRFR for the professional video editing and Josh Wilson at Duke's Nicholas Institute for the web design and editing.