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Filling the evidentiary gap in climate litigation

Stuart-Smith, Rupert F.; Otto, Friederike E.L.; Saad, Aisha I.; Lisi, Gaia; Minnerop, Petra; Cedervall, Kristian; van Zwieten, Kristin; Wetzer, Thom

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Rupert F. Stuart-Smith

Friederike E.L. Otto

Aisha I. Saad

Gaia Lisi

Kristian Cedervall

Kristin van Zwieten

Thom Wetzer


Lawsuits concerning the impacts of climate change make causal claims about the effect of defendants’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on plaintiffs and have proliferated around the world. Plaintiffs have sought, inter alia, compensation for climate-related losses and to compel governments to reduce their GHG emissions. So far, most of these claims have been unsuccessful. Here we assess the scientific and legal bases for establishing causation and evaluate judicial treatment of scientific evidence in 73 lawsuits. We find that the evidence submitted and referenced in these cases lags considerably behind the state of the art in climate science, impeding causation claims. We conclude that greater appreciation and exploitation of existing methodologies in attribution science could address obstacles to causation and improve the prospects of litigation as a route to compensation for losses, regulatory action and emission reductions by defendants seeking to limit legal liability.


Stuart-Smith, R. F., Otto, F. E., Saad, A. I., Lisi, G., Minnerop, P., Cedervall, K., …Wetzer, T. (2021). Filling the evidentiary gap in climate litigation. Nature Climate Change, 11, 651-655.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 26, 2021
Online Publication Date Jun 28, 2021
Publication Date 2021
Deposit Date May 7, 2021
Publicly Available Date Dec 28, 2021
Journal Nature climate change.
Print ISSN 1758-678X
Electronic ISSN 1758-6798
Publisher Nature Research
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 11
Pages 651-655