Strong legal case for role in global warming

Tuesday, 31 October 2006

University of Adelaide research has found governments and companies face a likely increase in law suits for their role in global warming and consequent damage to health and communities, and that these claims have a good chance of succeeding.

Researchers Dr Joseph Smith and Emeritus Professor David Shearman have reviewed the scientific evidence for the effects of global warming and analysed the legal basis of potential legal claims. They said the scientific evidence showing the "human signature" on global warming was as great as that linking cigarette smoking with cancer.

"The potential grounds of liability are now quite clear and the scientific evidence is at a point where, in many cases, it would meet the legal requirements for civil standards of proof, that is the balance of probability being greater than 50%," Dr Smith said.

He cited the recent law suit in the US by the state of California against six major car manufacturers seeking monetary damages for their alleged contributions to global warming and the harm to the environment, economy and public health.

"Major grounds against companies could include negligence, product liability, nuisance, breach of directors' duties and liability under environmental pollution statutes. For governments, actions are likely to be based in administrative laws for failing to fulfil statutory obligations to protect the environment," Dr Smith said.

Dr Smith is a PhD candidate in the University of Adelaide's Law School and Professor David Shearman is an Emeritus Professor of Medicine and an Honorary Research Fellow. The research was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

The research has been published by Presidian Legal Publications in a book launched last week 'Climate Change Litigation: Analysing the law, scientific evidence and impacts on the environment, health and property'.

Professor Shearman said there was clear evidence for the effects of global warming on human health such as increasing deaths through heat stress, and injury from storm and tempest, as well as the impact of large communities losing areas of productive lands.


Contact Details

Dr Joseph Smith
PhD student, Law School
University of Adelaide
Business: (08) 8313 3872

Emeritus Professor David Shearman
Honorary Research Fellow
University of Adelaide
Business: (08) 8339 3972

Media Team
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 0814