Attribution science and litigation: facilitating effective legal arguments and strategies to manage climate change damages

Aug 1, 2023

Growing number of lawsuits seek to use the courts to bring action on climate change. The objectives of

these lawsuits include compelling governments and corporates to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,

preventing the financing and construction of high-emitting infrastructure, and ensuring businesses and

banks disclose their exposure to financial risks associated with climate change. A subset of these cases

makes claims relating to climate change impacts. In most of these cases, plaintiffs (1) seek

compensatory damages for losses incurred as a result of defendants’ greenhouse gas emissions

(‘damage liability cases’), or (2) ask courts to compel defendants, primarily governments or corporations,

to reduce emissions. These cases therefore hinge on courts finding that a causal relationship exists

between the defendants’ emissions and the plaintiffs’ losses (typically to determine standing in the latter


The last decade has seen a rapid growth in climate litigation in an increasing range of jurisdictions,

including significant developments in successful pro-regulatory litigation in Global South jurisdictions.

Parallel to this growth in litigation, recent scientific advances (termed ‘attribution science’) now allow

causal relationships to be established between greenhouse gas emissions and climate-related events.

It is logical, therefore, that attribution science should serve as the key source of evidence upon which

causal claims are made in relevant climate lawsuits. Previous legal scholarship has outlined the potential

role of attribution science in litigation.

Publication details
The urgency of zero
Wetzer, Thom
Oxford Smith School

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