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National laws could enable global climate lawsuits against fossil fuel polluters – Vanuatu-Canada Report

Monday, December 7, 2015

PARIS – Legal researchers from Vanuatu and Canada today released a report, Taking Climate Justice into our own Hands, which explains the legal basis for climate-impacted countries to set the rules for climate damages lawsuits and how those rules can be enforced against international fossil fuel polluters. In addition, Taking Climate Justice proposes language for a new law, the Climate Compensation Act, which could form the basis for legislation adopted in any country in the world.

“The barriers to suing fossil fuel polluters are not legal – they are political,” noted Andrew Gage, Staff Counsel with West Coast Environmental Law and co-author of the report. “Either through their own laws, or through adopting laws like the Climate Compensation Act, countries can make it clear that fossil fuel polluters are legally responsible for the harm that they cause.”

“The people of Vanuatu know first-hand that fossil fuel pollution and climate change violate the legal rights of countr, communities and individuals,” said Margaretha Wewerinke, Lecturer in Environmental Law at the Law School of the University of the South Pacific. “A law such as the Climate Compensation Act answers the legal questions about how the victims of climate change can seek a legal remedy.”

The legal power of the countries impacted by climate change to set the rules related to responsibility for climate change is grounded in well-established principles of private international law, and the Climate Compensation Act is based in part on the example of legislation enacted in some countries to hold tobacco companies legally liable. The specific provisions of the Climate Compensation Act are based on well-established common law principles, and address such issues as who can sue (standing), who can be sued, linking climate change to particular harm, apportioning damage between defendants and addressing barriers to bringing litigation. 

The Vanuatu Environmental Law Association is a recently established network of environmental lawyers based in the climate-vulnerable nation of Vanuatu. West Coast, based in Vancouver, Canada, is a non-profit group of environmental law strategists and analysts that, for over 40 years, has been dedicated to safeguarding the environment through law.

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For more information contact the following (note that we are on Central European Time):

  • Andrew Gage, Staff Lawyer, West Coast Environmental Law (+33) 7 55 84 81 23 (Victoria, after 12 December - 250-412-9784)
  • Margaretha Wewerinke, Lecturer, University of the South Pacific (+33) 7 54 51 08 53

Taking Climate Justice into our own Hands is available on-line at

The webcast of our press conference is also available on-line.