December 3, 2022

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Factbox-The latest fronts in climate change litigation From Health & Fitness Journal

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©Health & Fitness Journal. FILE PHOTO: A police officer drives past a refinery in the industrial East End in Pasadena, Texas, U.S. September 18, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

By Clark Mindock

(Health & Fitness Journal) – Legal disputes related to climate change have more than doubled globally in the past seven years, moving beyond traditionally polluting industries like fossil fuel production, according to a June report from the London School of Economics.

At the COP27 climate talks in Egypt last week, UN experts warned that many corporate environmental claims amount to “empty slogans and hype”. This could encourage activists to launch further lawsuits against climate change laggards.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit against Big Oil rages on, and climate activists score a notable victory on the world stage in 2021 when a Dutch court ordered Royal Dutch Shell (LON:) to drastically cut emissions. In the United States, cities and states are staying the course in their early efforts to take Exxon (NYSE:), BP (NYSE:) and others to court in hopes they can persuade companies to take action to adapt to pay for climate change such as dikes and energy efficiency upgrades. The oil companies say they cannot be blamed for a global phenomenon like climate change and that policy change should come from governments, not courtrooms.

Below is a look at some of the latest climate litigation targets.

PLASTICS

Companies that manufacture and market plastics derived from fossil fuels have fought back a growing number of cases worldwide centered on the waste from the ubiquitous packaging material.

In July, a US federal judge in California granted preliminary approval for a $10 million settlement after US single-serve coffee company Keurig was sued by consumers who accused it of falsely certifying its K-cups as recyclable market, although they were not available in many places. Keurig has denied wrongdoing and liability.

Another lawsuit filed in 2020 in a California state court by the US environmental group Earth Island Institute against Coca-Cola (NYSE:), Pepsi, Nestlé and several other global consumer goods companies aims to sue those companies for their alleged contributions to plastic to account for pollution. The lawsuit alleges public nuisance, breach of warranty and negligence.

The companies have denied the allegations in the lawsuits but publicly pledged to work to prevent plastic pollution. In January, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and other international brands called for a global pact to tackle plastic pollution, including by reducing plastic production.

Internationally, climate activists have targeted plastics manufacturers by challenging government building permits for plastics manufacturing plants. A lawsuit announced earlier this year by London-based environmental law firm ClientEarth and other non-profit organizations seeks to kill a $3.1 billion plastics production facility proposed in Belgium by British petrochemicals giant Ineos, claiming that the permits the Flemish government did not take into account the environmental impact of plastic production. The plant would convert fracked shale gas into ethylene, a key building block for durable and “single-use” plastics, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Ineos did not respond to a request for comment but said the plant is the largest petrochemical investment in the region in decades and would create thousands of jobs.

FOOD INDUSTRY

Climate activists have also targeted the food industry, claiming that companies overstate the climate-friendliness of their products.

Sweden-based Oatly (NASDAQ:), which touts its oat-based milk alternative as the result of a less water-intensive process than traditional dairy milk, faced three lawsuits in 2021 from investors suing in U.S. federal court. The statements come in New York Equal to “greenwashing”, where a company promotes its business as more environmentally friendly than it actually is. An Oatly spokesman declined to comment on pending litigation.

In Denmark, the European Union’s largest pork producer, Danish Crown, was hit by a lawsuit last year alleging the company misrepresented its climate footprint through marketing that said its production was “more climate-friendly than you think”. Danish Crown did not respond to a request for comment but has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030.

A lawsuit filed by indigenous groups in France alleges that French supermarket chain Casino systematically violated human rights and environmental laws by selling beef in connection with land grabbing and deforestation in the Amazon (NASDAQ:) rainforest. The lawsuit alleges the company violates a 2017 “duty of vigilance” law in France that requires companies to avoid human rights and environmental abuses in supply chains. The company has claimed it has a strict policy setting criteria for suppliers to meet, including “no deforestation of the Amazon” and no slave-like working conditions.

BANKS AND INVESTMENT COMPANIES

The world’s financial giants face complaints from consumers who say they are failing to reduce environmental damage and misrepresent certain investments as green.

A group of environmental nonprofits announced in October that they had launched legal proceedings in France against BNP Paribas (OTC:), which the nonprofits describe as “the largest financier of fossil fuel expansion in Europe.” The group claims that the fossil fuel investments violate France’s vigilance law, which obliges companies to identify and reduce environmental damage. The group, led by Oxfam France and Friends of the Earth France, described the move as an “unprecedented legal action”. BNP Paribas did not respond to a request for comment.

A German consumer organization sued Deutsche Bank’s wealth management unit DWS (ETR:) in October, alleging it misrepresented a fund’s green references in marketing materials. The lawsuit alleges that DWS told investors it invested 0% in controversial sectors like coal, but stated elsewhere that coal industry revenues account for up to 15% of the fund’s earnings. DWS has repeatedly denied misleading investors.

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