There’s an interesting piece on Mother Jones today, supported by ClimateDesk.org, about lawsuits against companies known to emit large quantities of greenhouse gases for damages caused by climate change. There seems to be a lot of thought in some circles that there will soon be a legal precedent to sue polluters not just for immediate acute effects like poisoning, but also for long-term effects like rising sea levels and increasingly violent weather.
The Prunéřov power station is the Czech Republic’s biggest polluter: Its 300-feet-high cooling towers push plumes of white smoke high above the flat, featureless fields of northern Bohemia. Prunéřov reliably wins a place on lists of Europe’s dirtiest power plants, emitting 11.1 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. So when CEZ Group, the state-controlled utility, proposed an overhaul to extend the facility’s life for another quarter of a century, protests flared—including one from a place about as far from the sooty industrial region as you can get, a place of tropical temperatures and turquoise seas with not a smokestack in sight. This January, the Federated States of Micronesia, some 8,000 miles away in the Pacific Ocean, lodged a legal challenge to the Prunéřov plant on the grounds that its chronic pollution threatens the island nation’s existence.
Is that, well—legal, you might ask? In international law, there’s an established principle called transboundary harm, which means that if a Canadian factory belches toxic chemicals into a river, fouling a reservoir in Vermont, sooner or later the people at the Canadian factory will be hearing from some American lawyers. For the first time, Micronesia applied this tenet to climate change—arguing that its survival is jeopardized by any large power plant that doesn’t curb its carbon footprint. “They’re using a very creative approach to the international legal process,” says Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.
Tuvalu vs. ExxonMobil? [Mother Jones]