THE ROLE OF THE COURT AND LITIGATION IN ADDRESSING CLIMATE CHANGE
Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, with impacts already being felt by communities worldwide. While governments, businesses, and individuals all have a role to play in addressing this problem, courts and litigation are also playing an increasingly important role in holding those who contribute to climate change accountable.
Fortunately, in a bid to tackle climate change and its concomitant impact, President Muhammad Buhari in November 2021 signed into law the Climate Change Act. The signing of the Act was a positive reaction to the goals of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). It is worthy of note that this is a novel area of law in Nigeria, as the waters of the law need to be tested.
One of the keyways in which courts are involved in addressing climate change is through private lawsuits. These cases are brought by individuals or groups who have been directly impacted by climate change and are seeking compensation from those who are responsible. For example, residents of a coastal community who have lost their homes and livelihoods due to sea level rise may sue a company that has been emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases. These types of cases can help to hold polluters accountable and provide compensation to those who have been harmed by climate change. The right to private suit and compensation was readily protected by section 34(2)(c) of the Act.
Another way in which courts are involved in addressing climate change is through public interest litigation. This type of litigation is brought by organizations on behalf of the public in order to challenge government policies or corporate practices that contribute to climate change. Section 35 of the Act defines a public entity as an organization or body providing services to the public on behalf of the Nigerian government. Furthermore, a public entity may bring a lawsuit, by virtue of section 34 of the Act, to prevent the continuance of an act that is harmful to the environment. These cases have helped to push the government to take more action on climate change and have also helped to bring the issue to the public's attention.
Courts are also playing a role in addressing climate change through the interpretation of existing laws in relation to environmental and climate change laws. For example, courts in several countries have ruled that existing laws on environmental protection, human rights, or consumer protection can be used to address climate change. This has helped to ensure that existing laws are being used to their fullest potential to address this issue.
While courts and litigation can play an important role in addressing climate change, it is important to note that they are only one piece of the puzzle. Governments, businesses, and individuals all have a role to play in addressing this issue, and courts and litigation should be used in conjunction with other efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to the impacts of climate change, and promote sustainable development. The obligations of different stakeholders in climate change were captured in section 22 – 26 of the Act.
Inconclusion, courts and litigation play an increasingly important role in addressing climate change. Public interest litigation, private lawsuits, and the interpretation of existing laws are all helping to hold those who contribute to climate change accountable and provide compensation to those who have been harmed. While these efforts are important, they must be part of a larger, coordinated effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to the impacts of climate change, and promote sustainable development.