‘We’ll be taking this report with us to the courts’: NGOs say litigation will follow landmark IPCC study

Green groups have warned that litigation against fossil fuel companies will follow in the wake of this week’s landmark climate report, while COP26 president Alok Sharma has responded to the study by urging the international community to embrace its climate responsibility.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s report, described by prime minister Boris Johnson as a “sobering read”, says that reaching the Paris Agreement’s climate change target will be impossible without immediate and substantial decreases in greenhouse gas emissions.

In response, the government has called for “greater global ambition” ahead of the major COP26 climate talks which are due to take place in Glasgow in November.  

“The science is clear”, said Alok Sharma, COP26 president-delegate. “The impacts of the climate crisis can be seen around the world and if we don’t act now, we will continue to see the worst effects impact lives, livelihoods and natural habitats.”

Sharma added that “our message to every country, government, business and part of society is simple. The next decade is decisive, follow the science and embrace your responsibility to keep the goal of 1.5C alive”. 

This sentiment was reiterated in a statement from Boris Johnson, who said that “we know what must be done to limit global warming - consign coal to history and shift to clean energy sources, protect nature and provide climate finance for countries on the frontline”.

However, some green groups have questioned the government’s commitment to tackling climate change, highlighting the fact that controversial proposals for a new oilfield project in the North Sea are currently with ministers, awaiting approval.  

Connor Schwartz, climate lead at NGO Friends of the Earth, said: “If the government wants to show they respect the world’s leading scientists on climate chaos, they can start by cancelling the Cambo oil field”.

Schwartz also accused world leaders of having “chronically over-slept, and people are paying the price with their lives”. 

Environmental law charity ClientEarth’s director of climate and energy, Maria-Krystyna Duval, pointed out that due to the scientific credibility of IPCC reports, its implications on law and litigation could be substantial.

She said: “The boards of individual fossil fuel companies should be preparing for their day in court, to respond to charges that they are to blame for increased natural disasters and disruptions to the planet's climate stability.”

Kaisa Kosonen, who works on climate policy at Greenpeace echoed this, saying “we’ll be taking this report with us to the courts”.

However, one think-tank has responded quite differently. Lord Lawson’s prominent climate sceptic group the Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF) put out a release in response to the IPCC report stating that “it is now beyond doubt that renewable energy policies have failed to halt or slow the relentless rise in global CO2 emissions”.

“Decades of childish and misconceived green policies have done nothing to reduce global CO2 emissions and have only succeeded in stirring up intense public resistance”, Dr Benny Peiser, GWPF director said in a statement, adding “we are constantly told to do ‘more’, but more of the same will be disastrous.”

Conservative MP Steve Baker recently became a GWPF trustee, and is set to be a key player in a Tory backbench group being established to question the cost of net zero policies.