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Fossil fuels in court: lessons from Colombia

Legal activism against coal, oil and gas extraction can make a big difference to the climate, but it is important to recognize local stakeholders’ own priorities.

Published on 14 October 2016
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Marion Davis

A coal miner at work in Colombia
 A coal miner at work in Colombia. Photo: Alejandro Arango / Flickr.

The use of fossil fuels is the single biggest driver of climate change around the world, emitting more than 32 billion tonnes of CO2 alone in 2014.

Yet up until now, the companies that extract, refine and sell fossil fuels have not been held financially responsible for the impacts of climate change.

A new wave of legal activism is working to change that. Eager to stop new coal mines, oil fields and supporting infrastructure, and to raise funds to support people affected by climate change impacts, climate activists are increasingly taking legal action against fossil fuel producers. Cases against coal and oil companies are now pending in the Netherlands, in Peru, in Pakistan and New Zealand, in the Philippines and the United States.

Legal action is an important strategy because it creates an opportunity to change the rules of the game, by reshaping the law or how it is interpreted. This means legal action can have a bigger impact than, for example, protests or blockades.

But even if they have major implications for the climate, many legal actions against fossil fuels extraction projects actually focus on issues that are more important to local communities, such as water and food insecurity, impacts on farming, public health, and ethnic or human rights.

Colombia is a good example. In February 2016, the Constitutional Court decided to limit the areas accessible for fossil fuels and minerals extraction to protect the delicate páramo ecosystems of the Andean highlands, which are crucial to the water supply.

Source: Climate Home, UK

Written by

Claudia Strambo
Claudia Strambo

Research Fellow

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