The Memo: Climate activism and the law

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Climate activism and the law: From movement, to right, to a court near you

Charity Agasaro – 16th January 2023

It’s been 15 years since three villages in Nigeria - Oruma, Goi, and Ikot Ada Udo, were polluted with Oil from Royal Dutch Shell. In December 2022, a court in the Netherlands ruled that the oil giant’s Nigerian subsidiary was responsible, and concluded that the parent company should pay attention. As a result, the company has been ordered to pay four farmers and their communities €15m, and install a leak detection system. Despite the fact that all the original claimants have now died, Milieudefensie, the organization that brought the legal case against Shell, has argued that the decision should demonstrate to major polluters that accountability is inevitable.

According to commentators, European courts are becoming increasingly open to environmental damage cases. In another recent case, a separate Dutch court ruled that a case could be heard against aluminium producer Norsk Hydro and its branches over pollution in Northern Brazil. In the UK, victims of the Mariana dam disaster in Brazil were allowed to make a claim against mining company BHP.

Environment law is a fast-growing area. Legislation such as the French ‘duty of vigilance’ is holding corporations to account in their countries of origin. In the aftermath of the EU’s decision to grant individuals and NGOs the ability to challenge corporations that disregard environmental law, the likelihood of a greater number of claims – ranging from the use of harmful pesticides to biodiversity loss - will increase [read our summary of the High Court case brought against the environment agency here].

In order to achieve sustainable development, countries are realizing that environmental law is key to pursuing their goals and objectives. Consequently, with stricter measures put in place to reduce violations, barristers working in environmental law could well be in for a busy year…