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“Climate change will be the biggest human rights violation ever”: the lawyer making fossil fuel companies quake
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“Climate change will be the biggest human rights violation ever”: the lawyer making fossil fuel companies quake

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Roger Cox, the climate change rockstar few have heard of, is Roger Cox. Yet, his groundbreaking legal work shows how corporations can be held accountable for failing to take action to replace fossil fuels with clean energy.

The name of the Dutch lawyer, 53, may be unfamiliar, but Cox is well-known in esteemed circles – he was the former US vice-president Al Gore’s choice for Time’s 100 Most Influential Persons of 2021. His first landmark case. The Urgenda climate caseThe Dutch government was urged to cut its emissions by 25% by 2020 in 2015. The second groundbreaking win, which Gore described as a “David vs Goliath legal battle”, saw Cox Royal Dutch ShellIn May 2021, the company will be charged with failing to take adequate measures to reduce its emissions. The company must reduce its carbon output by 45 percent by 2030. This result sent ripples around the globe.

Talk to the New StatesmanOver Zoom, Cox shared his story of how he raised climate action in courtrooms. “I spent a few years thinking about how the law could be used as a lever to create a speedier energy transition and address [the] climate crisis properly,” he said, before deciding that human rights and duty of care was the way in. It would have been impossible to not have used the law in order to address climate change morally, he said.

Despite the favourable ruling against the Netherlands, the emissions reductions have probably been met “by luck” because of Covid restrictions rather than by the Dutch government implementing adequate measures, said Cox. However, he believes that this This is irrelevant. “The real value of that verdict is that it changed the way we talk about climate change. The court order changed the narrative around the dangers of climate change, and made the public more aware of what is at stake and what needs to be done.”

Taking on Shell was the next logical step given that “the two main systemic players responsible for the climate crisis are governments and fossil fuel companies,” said Cox. The two are “tightly knit” and if they fail to change their ways, “we won’t be able to avert dangerous climate change”.

In his book Revolution Justified, published in 2011, Cox argued that “only the law can save us now”. His answer is more nuanced today. “We are in a big mess, we have a very large crisis and most people don’t understand what the urgency is. Obviously, we need more than court cases.” He cites the youth climate protests and pressure for climate action from investors as “encouraging”.  

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“If we only have court cases we won’t make it, but they are a very valuable tool and give lots of people insights into where responsibility for addressing climate change lies,” said Cox. He believes that corporations are responsible for this responsibility. “Corporations tell us consumers need to change and that politicians have to make regulations, but if you delve into it deeper, it is big corporations who need to change. They lobby against new regulations, water them down, delay them, or make sure they don’t see the light of day.”

There have been approximately 250,000 people in the United States since 2015. Similar cases in 30 other countriesThis belief is based on the belief, that governments should not fail to act in accordance with climate science. Many have been successful, including those in France, Germany, and Ireland. “Things are shifting,” said Cox. “But we need a lot more cases against big corporations in the fossil fuel industry or in industries related to it.” He cites recent cases against car manufacturers BMW, Volkswagen and Daimler in Germany, where citizens are, for the first time, Suing private companiesOver their contribution to climate change.

He suggested that these cases are just the tip of an iceberg when compared to what’s to come. “The next wave of litigation will be against the financial institutions that have financed carbon dioxide emissions,” predicted Cox. In the years to come, the “liability of companies working against the goals of the Paris [climate] Agreement” will be front and centre of legal minds everywhere. He insisted that these firms and their boards would be held responsible. “They should know this.”

Board members should also know that sticking to the status quo means their companies “will never be financially solid enough to compensate for all the damage that year in, year out [because of climate change]They will be charged for the costs. around the globe.” The outcome for such companies will be bankruptcy, warned Cox. Cox is not one to mince his words.

Cox believes that many companies are unaware they could soon face such dire scenarios. They believe they are doing their bit for climate change if they have a 2050 Net Zero strategy and plant trees to offset their emissions.

The UK is the latest country to be threatened by the law. The NGOs Friends of the Earth, and ClientEarth were confronted with the threat of the law earlier in January. AnnouncementThey were taking the government to trial. They believe the UK’s net zero strategyThis is a dangerous threat to future generations as it lacks the necessary detail to reach such an ambitious goal.  

The case has a “good chance” of being successful because if we don’t reduce emissions at speed, “we will be dealing with the most serious human rights violation that has ever occurred,” insisted Cox. “It is a constitutional duty of the judiciary to make sure that human rights are respected.

“The pressure is mounting. I would like to think that we don’t need to go to court, but this is a pipe dream.”

[See also: Ben Okri: climate change and oppression are born of the same “devouring instincts”]


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