Over the past few years, there has been an exponential increased interest in climate change litigation globally. This comes as no surprise as climate change is arguably one of the major contemporary problems that the world has to deal with. This is particularly important for Africa in the face of globalization and the proliferation of multinational companies in the extractives industry, oil and gas. While many African countries have ratified treaties on climate change there is a lack of political will and ambition to effectively drive this agenda by states. Given this lack of urgency and strong determination from governments, climate change litigation plays a pivotal role in compelling governments to take all the judiciary, administrative, legislative, and policy measures to address the danger posed by climate change. This article argues that this is high time for non-governmental organizations, environmental human rights defenders in Africa, and citizens to turn to the judiciary for climate change justice.
African countries like other parts of the world have put in place laws and policies that respond to climate change. However, the efforts by countries are not consummate to the danger that is posed by climate change. In this spirit of holding governments accountable, ‘individuals, communities, non-governmental organizations, business entities, and sub-national governments and others have brought cases seeking to compel enforcement of those laws, replace them with stronger ones, extend existing laws to address climate change or define the relationship between fundamental rights and the impacts of climate change’. Climate change litigation has had an impact on how states especially in the United States of America and Europe have reacted to climate change. Leaving everything entirely to the governments without holding it accountable does not help issues. The results and effects of climate change litigation in America for instance have been inspiring and encouraging as they have led to the necessary regulatory, policy, and legislative changes. In other respects, potentially devastating projects to the environment have been halted in the interest of climate justice.
In the recent few years Africa has seen an increased rate of investors in the extractives industries, oil and gas. Whilst trade and investment is acceptable progress, the projects on the ground have not been implemented in accordance with climate justice dictates and sustainable development. Whereas the need to move towards just transition is more apparent and justifiable in the wake of climate change, states in Africa have taken steps to invest in dirty energy. Such kind of investments will not do the environment any justice and poses serious threats for the future generations. There is therefore a dire need now more than ever for NGOs and individuals to take states to task using the law. Public interest litigation has proved effective in other areas of the law in Africa like civil and political rights and other generations of rights. This tried and tested tool can therefore be used to push governments to set ambitious goals on their National Determined contributions and own up to several commitments in the multilateral treaties they have ratified. Climate change litigation can even also drive the adaptation and mitigation agenda by the governments. In conclusion, in the fight for climate justice around the world pubic interest litigation has been used as one of the tools to attain justice. This is a clarion call for the civic society in Africa to use the law effectively for climate justice and it remains one of the driving tools at Strategic Forecast where I provide advisory on public interest litigation from continental perspective.
Richard Ncube Esq
Advisor-Public Interest Litigation (Climate Change)