A Rights Turn in Climate Change Litigation?

Jacqueline Peel, Hari M. Osofsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

163 Scopus citations


In 2015, a Pakistani court in the case of Leghari v. Federation of Pakistan made history by accepting arguments that governmental failures to address climate change adequately violated petitioners' rights. This case forms part of an emerging body of pending or decided climate change-related lawsuits that incorporate rights-based arguments in several countries, including the Netherlands, the Philippines, Austria, South Africa, and the United States (US). These decisions align with efforts to recognize the human rights dimensions of climate change, which received important endorsement in the Paris Agreement. The decisions also represent a significant milestone in climate change litigation. Although there have been hundreds of climate-based cases around the world over the past two decades - especially in the US - past and much of the ongoing litigation focuses primarily on statutory interpretation avenues. Previous efforts to bring human rights cases have also failed to achieve formal success. The new cases demonstrate an increasing trend for petitioners to employ rights claims in climate change lawsuits, as well as a growing receptivity of courts to this framing. This 'rights turn' could serve as a model or inspiration for rights-based litigation in other jurisdictions, especially those with similarly structured law and court access.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-67
Number of pages31
JournalTransnational Environmental Law
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018


  • Adaptation
  • Climate change litigation
  • Human rights
  • Leghari case
  • Mitigation
  • Urgenda case

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Law


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