In a landmark judgment, a court in California has allowed a coalition of environmental groups to sue the US government over global warming - the first time a court has recognised the potentially disastrous impact of climate change.
A judge in San Francisco gave permission for the two groups, along with four US cities, to sue two federal development agencies that provide billions of dollars in loans to fund projects overseas. Some of the projects are power plants that emit greenhouse gases while others include pipeline projects that allow the transfer of oil.
"This is the first time a US court has given a plaintiff the right to go to court solely on the global warming issue," Geoff Hand, a Vermont-based lawyer in the case, told The Independent. "It's a great advance."
Mr Hand said the case would not strictly be an examination of global warming science, but he added: "We have dealt with the jurisdiction issues - the case will now go on to the merits. It essentially puts the onus on to the government and means they have to show global warming is not happening. It will have to provide evidence to say it is not happening."
The lawsuit was brought by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, along with the cities of Boulder, Colorado, and the Californian cities of Oakland, Santa Monica and Arcata. In the filing the cities argued that the impact of global warming - including rising sea levels and warmer ocean temperatures - would have a negative impact on their communities.
The coastal city of Arcata said: "Arcata is presently suffering and will continue to suffer, these consequences. [The government agencies' actions] increase the risk that Arcata's interests are and will continue to be harmed by climate change."
Jerry Brown, the Mayor of Oakland, said: "Tragically, the federal government is violating federal law, which requires an assessment of cumulative impacts. This injures the citizens of Oakland, and every person in this country."
The lawsuit names two government agencies - the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (Opic) and the Export-Import Bank of the United States. It claims that 8 per cent of all the world's greenhouse gases come from projects supported by these two agencies. The projects listed by the plaintiffs include the Sakhalin oil field off the coast of Russia's Sakhalin island, one of the largest offshore developments in history; the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline which stretches around 600 miles from Doba to the Cameroon port of Kribi and the Cantarell oilfields in Mexico.
The lawsuit argued that the National Environmental Policy Act - which requires environmental assessments of projects in the US - should apply to US-backed projects overseas. The law should apply, it was argued, because they contribute to the degradation of the US environment as a result of global warming.
In the latest report on the effects of climate change, a study by north American scientists predicts that global warming is pushing the Arctic system into a seasonally ice-free state for the first time in more than a million years, and that this process is accelerating.
In his ruling, US District Judge Jeffrey White said the plaintiff's "evidence is sufficient to demonstrate it is reasonably probable that emissions from projects supported by Opic and the Export-Import Bank will threaten plaintiffs' concrete interests".
Kert Davies, research director of Greenpeace, said: "This case once again highlights the fact that global warming pollution doesn't recognise political borders."
A spokeswoman for the Export-Import Bank, Linda Formella, said the agency did not comment on pending litigation.Reuse content