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Legal implications of the climate-health crisis: A case study analysis of the role of public health in climate litigation.

  • Academic Journal
  • Toolan N; UCLA School of Law, Los Angeles, California, United States of America.; World Federation of Public Health Associations-Environmental Health Working Group.
    Marcus H; World Federation of Public Health Associations-Environmental Health Working Group.; School of Public Health, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
    Hanna EG; Australian National University, Fenner School for Environment and Society, Canberra, Australia.; WG Chair, World Federation of Public Health Associations-Environmental Health Working Group.
    Wannous C; World Federation of Public Health Associations-Environmental Health Working Group.; Towards A Safer World Network and Future Earth Health-Knowledge Action Network, Stockholm, Sweden.
  • PloS one [PLoS One] 2022 Jun 15; Vol. 17 (6), pp. e0268633. Date of Electronic Publication: 2022 Jun 15 (Print Publication: 2022).
  • English
  • Background: Strong scientific evidence affirms that climate change is now a public health emergency. Increasingly, climate litigation brought against governments and corporations utilizes international human rights, environmental and climate laws and policies to seek accountability for climate-destructive and health-harming actions. The health impacts of climate change make litigation an important means of pursuing justice and strategically challenging legal systems. Yet there is scant documentation in the literature of the role that public health has played in climate litigation and the legal weight public health narratives are given in such contexts. Therefore, we assessed to what extent courts of law have used public health harm in legal adjudication and sought to provide practical recommendations to address barriers to positioning legal arguments in public health-centric frames.
    Methods: We reviewed legal databases to identify all publicly reported, documented, cases of climate litigation filed in any country or jurisdiction between 1990 and September 2020. For the 1641 cases identified, we quantified the frequency of cases where health concerns were explicitly or implicitly raised.
    Findings: Case numbers are trending upwards, notably in high income countries. Resolution remains pending in over half of cases as the majority were initiated in the past three years. Cases were primarily based in climate and human rights law and brought by a wide range of groups and individuals predominantly against governments. About half of the decided cases found in favour for the plaintiffs. Based on this, we selected the 65 cases that were directly linked to public health. We found economic forces and pricing of health risks play a key role, as courts are challenged by litigants to adjudicate on the responsibility for health impacts.
    Conclusions: While courts of law are receptive to public health science, significant legal reform is needed to enhance leveraging of public health evidence in legal judgements of climate litigation cases. The integration of a public health mandate into a new eco-centric legal paradigm will optimize its potential to promote human well-being-the core objective underpinning both international law, human rights, and public health. Existing legal doctrines and practices can be enhanced to increase the weight of public health arguments in climate legal action and consequently ensure legal rulings in climate litigation prioritize, protect and promote public health.
Additional Information
Publisher: Public Library of Science Country of Publication: United States NLM ID: 101285081 Publication Model: eCollection Cited Medium: Internet ISSN: 1932-6203 (Electronic) Linking ISSN: 19326203 NLM ISO Abbreviation: PLoS One Subsets: MEDLINE
Original Publication: San Francisco, CA : Public Library of Science
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Date Created: 20220615 Date Completed: 20220617 Latest Revision: 20220716
20220719
PMC9200309
10.1371/journal.pone.0268633
35704601

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