Environmental and climate litigation: what lies ahead?

With the growing concern about environmental and climate issues, new legal areas need to emerge to respond to the unique challenges posed by this reality.
Articles 21/07/2023

Climate Litigation is an emerging reality that cannot be ignored, as in recent years we have witnessed a growing global concern about environmental and climate issues. As the challenges related to climate change intensify, it becomes increasingly important to also seek legal solutions to protect the environment and ensure accountability of the parties involved. In this context, climate litigation emerges as an emerging field of law, and Portugal is not immune to this phenomenon.

Climate litigation refers to the legal practice that involves litigation related to these environmental and climate issues, entailing the representation of parties before the courts in legal actions involving possible violations in this field.

Legal actions related to climate litigation play a crucial role in holding the parties involved accountable. Companies that fail to adopt sustainable practices or governments that neglect their environmental obligations can face lawsuits and can be held accountable for their actions. In addition, lawsuits can serve as a mechanism to push for meaningful changes, setting legal precedents and encouraging a more sustainable approach in business and government policies.

The European Union has adopted a more rigorous approach to climate issues and has demanded from its Member States the implementation of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote energy efficiency and adopt renewable and more sustainable energy sources. These measures have a direct impact on governments and private companies and can increase the risk of lawsuits for environmental violations.

In Portugal, climate litigation has become an increasingly relevant area in the legal field, as concern for climate change and its consequences grows within society and government bodies.

Indeed, in the Portuguese legal system, the values of the environment and quality of life are constitutionally protected by Article 66 of the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic.

More recently, there have also been very significant legislative changes that may influence the filing of lawsuits against large companies and regulatory and governmental bodies. Among these the following stand out:

  • Carbon Neutrality Roadmap 2050 (2019): This roadmap sets out the goals and measures to achieve carbon neutrality in Portugal by 2050, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in various sectors, such as energy, transportation, agriculture, and industry.
  • National Energy and Climate Plan 2030 (PNEC 2030): Establishes the strategy and measures to address the challenges of climate change in Portugal, including decarbonization, energy efficiency, internal energy market and research, among others.
  • Basic Climate Law (2021): This law establishes the legal framework for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the promotion of climate resilience in Portugal, with the aim of achieving climate neutrality by 2050.

In addition to these legislative changes, it is also important to highlight that Portugal has demonstrated an international commitment to the fight against climate change, first and foremost by being a signatory to the Paris Agreement (2015). These international commitments may influence the interpretation and application of national legislation in cases related to climate litigation.

In light of this growing concern for environmental issues and sustainability, it is possible that companies in the extractive, textile and food industries are more susceptible to possible litigation and compensation claims, as a result of the responsibility to which they are especially bound. It should also be noted that such actions are often aimed only at getting companies, governments and even citizens to assume more ethical and environmentally correct behaviours in order to achieve environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals.

The content of this information does not constitute any specific legal advice; the latter can only be given when faced with a specific case. Please contact us for any further clarification or information deemed necessary in what concerns the application of the law.


Practice Areas

  • Litigation