This website provides two databases of climate change litigation: (1) a U.S. Climate Change Litigation database and (2) a Global Climate Change Litigation database, which includes all cases except those in the U.S.
The U.S. Climate Change Litigation database is a joint project of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School and Arnold & Porter. Michael B. Gerrard, then a partner at Arnold & Porter and now Faculty Director of the Sabin Center, and J. Cullen Howe, an environmental law specialist at Arnold & Porter, first created the U.S. Climate Litigation Chart in 2007. In 2017, it was relaunched as an interactive and searchable database. The U.S. chart is updated on a monthly basis, and currently includes 1591 cases* with links to 10385 case documents.
The Global Climate Change Litigation database was created in 2011 and is updated regularly. It currently includes 725 cases, with links to 1441 case documents. At present, the Global database features cases from over 55 countries. The database also includes climate litigation cases brought before international or regional courts or tribunals.
To fall within the scope of the U.S. and Global databases, cases must satisfy two key criteria.
First, cases must generally be brought before judicial bodies (though in some exemplary instances matters brought before administrative or investigatory bodies are also included). Historically, the term “cases” in the U.S. database included more than judicial actions and proceedings. Other types of “cases” formerly contained in the database included quasi-judicial administrative proceedings, rulemaking petitions, requests for reconsideration of regulations, notices of intent to sue (in situations where lawsuits were not subsequently filed), and subpoenas. Since 2018, these other types of cases have not been added to the U.S. database, and approximately 100 older such cases were removed from the database in November 2021.
Second, climate change law, policy, or science must be a material issue of law or fact in the case. Cases that make only a passing reference to climate change, but do not address climate-relevant laws, policies, or actions in a meaningful way are not included.
In general, cases that may have a direct impact on climate change, but do not explicitly raise climate issues, are also not included in the database. Examples of such cases may include challenges to government inaction on local air pollution or challenges to the development of fossil fuel infrastructure on the basis of other types of harm to human health and/or the environment. The intent of the litigants with regard to the climate-related consequences of such cases is not considered during the assessment process.
The Global database also includes a number of cases brought before arbitral tribunals under the terms of bilateral and multilateral investment agreements, commonly referred to as Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). Investor-state cases are considered to be within the scope of the database insofar as they relate directly to the enactment or withdrawal of a domestic measure explicitly adopted to meet a country’s climate goals and objectives. More information on these cases and their inclusion in the database can be found here.
Categorization in the Global Database
Prior to addition to the Global database, cases are categorized according to:
- Case categories, including the type of defendant (governments or corporations and individuals) and the main cause of action (e.g., greenhouse gas emissions reduction and trading, environmental assessment and permitting, human rights, etc.);
- Jurisdiction, including the court or tribunal before which the case was filed;
- The climate-relevant principal law to which the litigation relates (i.e., the main laws invoked in the case);
- The status of the case (e.g., whether the case is pending or decided).
A single case may be categorized in multiple case categories, multiple jurisdictions (if the case is heard on appeal), and multiple principal laws. You can filter by case category, jurisdiction, principal law, and jurisdiction here.
Categorization in the U.S. Database
Prior to addition to the U.S. database, cases are categorized according to:
- Type of claim (e.g., federal statutory, constitutional, state law); and
- Principal law (e.g., specific statutes or doctrines).
A single U.S. case may be categorized in multiple types of claim and principal laws. You can see all of the types (and sub-types) of claims here. You can filter by type of claim, principal law, filing year, and jurisdiction here.
Data Collection Process
Cases are identified on a rolling basis by Arnold & Porter and the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law for the U.S. database and by the Sabin Center for the Global database. Common sources of information relied on by researchers include media reports, legal databases, court websites and newsletters, social media, academic articles, and other online sources. We take a collaborative approach to data gathering, and many cases have been reported through networks of plaintiffs and defendants, academics and researchers, or crowdsourced through other channels.
The Sabin Center’s Peer Review Network of Climate Litigation ensures that the database is comprehensive and up to date. For some specific types of litigation, data is collected in partnership with other institutions and individuals. The Sabin Center regularly collaborates with researchers at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. The primary source of cases from Australia is the University of Melbourne, which maintains the Australian Climate Change Litigation Database. The primary source of cases from the Asia-Pacific region is the Asia Development Bank. The primary source of cases from Brazil is the Grupo de Pesquisa Direito, Ambiente e Justiça no Antropoceno, Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (JUMA/NIMA/PUC-Rio). The Sabin Center also collaborates with the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) on climate litigation cases in Latin America. The Peer Review Network receives financial support from the United Nations Environment Program.
Data regarding ISDS cases is collected in partnership with Hasselt University, Centre for Government and Law, Faculty of Law. The primary source of cases is the UNCTAD Investment Policy Hub database, which collects over 1,000 existing ISDS cases worldwide. Another source of information is the ICSID database on its website. Full details of complaints, decisions, and arbitral awards in ISDS cases are not always made public, but original documents are included in the database where these have been identified.
Once a case is identified, it is reviewed by researchers at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law (and at Arnold & Porter, for the U.S. database) with relevant expertise in the field of environmental and climate change law. Researchers draft case summaries and categorize cases according to the categories described above prior to entry into the databases.
The database has helped highlight and inform a global field of research and practice in climate change law. While we have sought to identify as many cases as possible that may fall within the scope outlined above, the database is not exhaustive. Key limitations include language barriers, levels of media coverage, and public availability of court documents. As a result, coverage in some jurisdictions is more comprehensive than in others. This may contribute to the wide discrepancy in the numbers of climate cases identified in different jurisdictions, although the legal culture in different jurisdictions should also be considered a key factor. In some instances, cases which are identical in subject matter may also have been recorded in the database in one entry. In the U.S. database, one case may involve multiple complaints or petitions that have been consolidated, and the entry for a single case may include multiple decisions at the trial and appellate levels. Similarly, the fact that no climate litigation has yet been identified in a given jurisdiction should not be taken as a certain indication that no such litigation has been filed or decided.
At present, the categorization of cases is limited in scope. For example, in the Global database, the term “government” is used to identify a wide range of governments and institutions and may refer to national or subnational governments, or to specific government entities such as banks or other institutions. To mitigate this limitation, we do our best to specify the name of the government entities implicated in the litigation.
The definition of climate change litigation found in some academic and practitioner-oriented literature may be broader than that used to determine whether a case falls within the scope of these databases. The criteria for inclusion set out above have been adopted to facilitate both the process of data collection and to emphasize the distinct nature and importance of cases where climate change is material to the outcome. Climate change touches on a vast range of law and policy issues in the fields of environment, energy, natural resources, land use, and securities and financial regulation, among others; these criteria provide meaningful limits on researchers’ discretion to determine whether a case has climate relevance and help define climate litigation as a distinct field. While the dataset is sufficiently comprehensive and cross-cutting to provide wide-ranging insights, data-users should be aware that individual cases that meet these criteria may be missing and certain trends may not currently be captured in the database. In addition, cases that appear to meet these criteria at the outset may develop and evolve so that climate change is no longer material to their outcome. Some cases in the database are identified with the support of pro-climate litigants and their allies, which may mean that these cases are captured in more detail than cases seeking to challenge climate action. Our data collection processes are subject to continual evolution and may in the future be modified to include additional categories of cases or to better capture the volume of cases of a given type.
A CSV file for the U.S. Climate Change Litigation database is available here. We update the U.S. litigation data file on an approximately monthly basis. The file was last updated on May 23, 2023. The CSV file contains information that appears on the case webpages outside the green frames. We currently cannot provide files with the remainder of the U.S. data.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
The data file is intended to be a useful resource for research and does not constitute legal advice. No warranty of accuracy or completeness is made. You should consult with counsel to determine applicable legal requirements in a specific factual situation.
You can subscribe to monthly climate litigation updates here and view past monthly updates since September 2021 here. A document that includes monthly U.S. climate litigation updates from August 2008 to December 2021 is available here.
Site developed by Satellite Jones.
The Sabin Center is grateful to the Asia Development Bank, the Grantham Institute, the University of Melbourne’s Australia Climate Change Litigation Database, and the Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA) for helping us identify climate change cases. We also appreciate our ongoing partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme in surveying and assessing cases. The Sabin Center’s Global Climate Litigation Fellow is generously supported by the Foundation for International Law for the Environment (FILE). The Sabin Center and Arnold & Porter are grateful to Sabin Center interns, Luis Bello, and other staff at Columbia Law School and Arnold & Porter for their assistance with the transition to this website.
Information about new U.S. cases or updates or corrections for existing cases should be sent to Margaret Barry (firstname.lastname@example.org). Information about cases in other jurisdictions should be sent to Maria Antonia Tigre (email@example.com). You may also submit information through this online form.