Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Hurricane Harvey:  Lawyers Warn of Climate Lawsuits over Damages

Texas National Guardsmen helping residents hit by flooding from Hurricane Harvey (Picture Credit: Army National Guard/Lt Zachary West) Click to Enlarge.
Hurricane Harvey is wreaking unprecedented damage on Texas.  Should city planners, government agencies and businesses have seen it coming?  Could they have prevented death and disruption by acting differently?

Increasingly, such questions will be litigated in courtrooms and rely on climate science to answer, three environmental lawyers wrote in the journal Nature on Monday.

Advances in the science of linking weather extremes to global warming has the potential to change the legal landscape, they write.  The more clearly scientists can demonstrate an event was foreseeable, the more victims can – and will – seek redress from negligent authorities.

“In a world where events like Hurricane Harvey are predicted to increase, and predicted confidently by scientists… courts will be called upon more and more to disentangle these issues,” co-author Sophie Marjanac, an Australian-qualified lawyer with Client Earth, told Climate Home.

Marjanac give examples of potential targets for lawsuits.  In Houston, Texas, developers were allowed to build on wetlands that otherwise would have helped to drain floodwaters.  If it can be shown those decisions endangered people and property – and failed to anticipate known climate risks – the relevant authorities could be on the hook for payouts, she said.

Then there are businesses.  At least 10 oil refineries along Texas’ gulf coast have reportedly been forced offline by flooding.  Marjanac said they could be liable for any environmental damage resulting from taking inadequate precautions, or face wrangles with insurers.

Such legal cases would hinge on attribution science:  studies showing that climate change was at least partially to blame for the damages.

In the article, Marjanac and her coauthors wrote:  “Claims are likely to arise when those actors fail to share or disclose relevant knowledge, or fail to take adaptation actions that would have protected those to whom they owed a duty of care.  Such litigation may become an important driver of both mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptive action by both public and private sectors.”

Read more at Hurricane Harvey:  Lawyers Warn of Climate Lawsuits over Damages

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