Climate Law and Science
Our research on climate science and the law provides a robust body of scientific research that informs legal claims and policy. We work with partners to understand emerging evidentiary questions that arise in climate lawsuits and policy development. We also consider how scientific evidence has been used and interpreted in past cases to facilitate improved use of scientific research in the courts. Working with the Environmental Change Institute (ECI) we strengthen the link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts, in science and in law.
Our work integrates climate science with legal research and practice. We work in close partnership with the Environmental Change Institute, a world leader in the science of climate change attribution, and a lead partner on the World Weather Attribution initiative. We are embedded in a large close-knit network of scientists around the world at the cutting edge of this field and actively collaborate with scientists from a range of different disciplines. Our research has identified current and potential barriers to, and opportunities for, using the latest scientific evidence in courts. We also conduct research that evaluates the factual basis for causal claims made in pending and future litigation and provide scientific advice to lawyers.
Our research develops new methodologies in attribution science, for instance in attributing health impacts to greenhouse-gas emissions, and frameworks for integrating climate-science evidence into legal argumentation to facilitate wider use of scientific evidence in litigation. To achieve these goals, our team works with strategic litigants to map and/or develop the evidence base for ongoing or future cases.
The growth in legal action around climate change offers opportunities to accelerate the transition to a net-zero economy but the financial implications of climate litigation remain poorly understood. We work with private-sector actors and leading academics across the University of Oxford and beyond to assess, quantify, and reveal the materiality of these risks.
What we've achieved
- Fredi Otto was listed in Nature's ten people who helped shape science in 2021.
- Rupert Stuart-Smith’s research was spotlighted in an article for The Lancet Planetary Health – How scientists are helping sue over climate change.
- Arjuna Dibley was interviewed for a podcast with the Straits Times (national newspaper in Singapore) about climate adaptation. Green Pulse Podcast: Climate dictionary – What does adapting to climate change mean?
- Fredi Otto joined SLP affiliated members Joana Setzer and Lavanya Rajamani in a panel discussion - Climate Court: Cases of Climate Justice (video in link) - at the New York Times Climate Hub, COP26, 8th November 2021.
- Our research on the influence of climate change on extreme weather events has been widely covered by the global media, including the FT, New York Times, and BBC. Our work providing attribution-science evidence in the context of ongoing litigation in Germany and a petition to the International Criminal Court has also received specific coverage.
- Our research on the role of attribution science in the courts was launched at a panel event, and featured in the press, including the BBC, FT, Carbon Brief, and The Guardian and was covered in BBC Radio interviews on The Climate Question and Science in Action).
- Rupert Stuart-Smith's work on the impact of climate change on glacial retreat in Peru appears in a January 2023 report from the Royal Geographical Society: 'Geographers and legal impact: Scoping the field'. The programme is cited as exemplary of how geographical research is being used to achieve impact in legal settings.
Recent research highlights
- Otto, F.E.L. et al., Causality and the fate of climate litigation: The role of the social superstructure narrative, Global Policy (2022).
- Stuart-Smith, R.F., Otto, F.E.L., & Wetzer, T. (forthcoming). Corporate liability for climate change impacts: the role of climate science. In: Corporate Responsibility and Liability in relation to Climate Change [de Jong, E.R., Kuipers, A., Roorda, L., Schaap, A.J., & Overheul, M. (eds.)]
- Stuart-Smith, R.F., Otto, F.E.L., Saad, A., Lisi, G., Minnerop, P., Lauta, K.C., van Zwieten, K., & Wetzer, T. (2021). Filling the evidentiary gap in climate litigation. Nature Climate Change, 11. Report for practitioners available in English and Spanish.
- Stuart-Smith, R.F., Clarke, B.J., Harrington, L.H. and Otto, F.E.L. (2021) Global Climate Change Impacts Attributable to Deforestation driven by the Bolsonaro Administration: Expert report for submission to the International Criminal Court. Oxford Sustainable Law Programme. 1-97.
- Minnerop, P. and Otto, F. (2020) Climate change and causation: Joining law and climate science on the basis of formal logic. Buffalo Journal of Environmental Law, 27.
- Stuart-Smith, R.F., Roe, G.H., Li, S. and Allen, M.R. (2021) Increased outburst flood hazard from Lake Palcacocha due to human-induced glacier retreat. Nature Geoscience, 14: 85-90.
- Harrington, L.J. and Otto, F.E. (2019) Attributable damage liability in a non-linear climate. Climatic Change.
- Otto, F.E.L., Skeie, R.B., Fuglestvedt, J.S., Berntsen, T., Allen, M.R. (2017) Assigning historic responsibility for extreme weather events. Nature Climate Change, 7.
- Hannart, A., Pearl, J., Otto, F.E.L., Naveau, P. and Ghil, M. (2015) Causal counterfactual theory for the attribution of weather and climate-related events. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.
- Fredi Otto | Senior Lecturer in Climate Science, Faculty of Natural Sciences, The Grantham Institute for Climate Change, Imperial College London
- Aisha Saad | Earl B. Dickerson Fellow, Instructor of Law, University of Chicago Law School
If you have any questions about this workstream, would like to learn more, or want to get involved: please contact Rupert Stuart-Smith. For general questions about the programme please email Oxford Sustainable Law Programme information.