Attribution and causal link in climate risk assessment & litigation | NGFS

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NGFS climate risk assessment litigation
© Tingey Injury Law Firm

The notion of attribution in climate science: In the past, it has often been considered difficult to attribute the detrimental impacts of climate change to the actions of an individual entity. However, recent scientific developments have made this attribution easier.

For instance, according to the latest report of the IPCC, evidence of observed changes in extreme events and their attribution to human influence has strengthened and the remaining carbon budget has been further specified. From a legal point of view, such evidence may support future plaintiffs’ attempts to establish causation.

On the other hand, in contrast to many environmental cases in the past that focused on obtaining substantial damages after environmental disasters and were thus backward-looking, recent cases are often forward-looking and try to prevent the scientifically projected gradual destruction of the environment. While plaintiffs in some of these cases are still requesting damages, these damages are often of an ancillary nature, while the main purpose is to increase climate ambition amongst governments and other actors by encouraging them to better manage and reduce climate risks.

However, it cannot be excluded that this trend may reverse as climate impacts intensify, climate-related damages increase, and climate science further improves to allow plaintiffs to establish a causal link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts.

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