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More extreme weather prompts climate litigation warning

With Britain sweltering in record heat and further extreme weather hitting Europe and beyond, environmental lawyers ClientEarth have warned about the litigation risk for governments and businesses that fail to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Climate science is rapidly improving. This means that we can now calculate the link between human activity and extreme weather events like heatwaves and droughts with much more confidence.

ClientEarth lawyer Sophie Marjanac said: “Governments and businesses have legal responsibilities to protect people in their care from risks arising from climate change. Failure to act could mean they face expensive court cases for loss and damages resulting from extreme weather events.”

In August 2003, there were 2,193 heat-related deaths in the UK in just 10 days as temperatures in England hit 38.5C.

Earlier this year the Environmental Audit Committee warned that these figures could treble by 2050 unless the UK government takes action.

Our carbon-intensive activities are making extreme weather events like heatwaves 10 times more likely to happen, than as recently as the early 2000s.

Marjanac added: “With wildfires raging in Greece and the Arctic Circle, and record heat in Japan and the UK, the urgency with which governments and businesses should be adapting to and mitigating climate change cannot be overstated. This is ultimately about people’s health and the health of the planet.

“If decision-makers continue to stand still on climate change, they can be sure that scientific improvements will spur on future climate change cases, as people seek to attribute responsibility for the devastating consequences of extreme weather events.”

Last month, ClientEarth associate researcher Hugh Baker, PhD student at Oxford’s Department of Physics released new climate research directly linking the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide – rather than just mean global temperature – with the chance of more extreme weather events.

The paper demonstrated that higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations directly increase temperature and rainfall extremes, providing yet more evidence of the need for robust emissions limits.

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Micaela Parente

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