US Supreme Court won't rule on local climate cases. Why is this a ‘critical victory’ for activists?

The US supreme court has declined to hear certain climate cases.
The US supreme court has declined to hear certain climate cases. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Charlotte Elton
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Fossil fuel giants have taken a massive legal hit after the US Supreme Court refused to hear their appeals against climate cases.


Cities and states in the US will be able to sue massive fossil fuel polluters thanks to a Supreme Court decision.

As the climate crisis worsens, local governments are taking energy giants to court.

Big Oil appealed five of these local cases to America’s Supreme Court. But the court declined to hear them- setting an important precedent for future lawsuits.

Campaigners have heralded the ruling as "critical victory" for climate litigation.

"Big Oil companies have been desperate to avoid trials in state courts, where they will be forced to defend their climate lies in front of juries, and today the Supreme Court declined to bail them out," said Richard Wiles, the president of the Center for Climate Integrity.

So what does this case mean for future climate cases - and why are environmentalists so happy?

Why are local governments taking oil giants to court?

As the climate crisis bites, extreme weather is wreaking havoc around the world.

From adaptation systems to disaster response, the necessary measures don’t come cheap.

So who should foot the bill?

In the US, local governments - funded by taxpayers - pay for many of these services.

But the governments of several cities and states want oil giants to cough up.

They argue that fossil fuel giants knew about the dangers of global warming back in the 1980s, but failed to do anything about it. Several leaks of internal memos have shown that in the past oil companies hid science which revealed how emissions would contribute to global warming.

Fossil fuel companies are significant contributors to the climate crisis.canva

Why does this Supreme Court case matter?

Five local governments - the state of Rhode Island and municipalities in California, Colorado, Hawaii and Maryland - sued Exxon, Chevron and Suncor Energy to help pay for climate bills. These cases were brought within the last five years.

The oil giants lost in lower courts and today, the Supreme Court refused to hear their appeals.

This is not because the court - which is largely filled with Conservative appointed judges - is pro-climate action. Rather, the judges believed that longstanding precedents give local courts the right to hear cases in their jurisdictions, and that the Supreme Court can’t intervene.

It means that future cases will now be heard in state courts. Oil giants are far less likely to win here as they are heard in front of a jury.

Cases will now proceed across the United States and local climate litigators have heralded the ruling as a huge win.

“Today, the court affirmed what we know to be true – our case deserves its day in local court, where our communities experience the impacts and costs of climate change," said Aaron Brockett, mayor of Boulder, Colorado where a local case will now proceed in the state court.


"Oil companies are making record profits while our planet continues to warm. It’s only fair that the companies that profit from irresponsible actions compensate communities for the harm they cause.”

The counsel for Chevron warned said that the “wasteful lawsuits” will do “nothing to advance global climate solutions [and] nothing to reduce emissions.”

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