The climate justice movement seeks to provide relief to vulnerable communities that have been disproportionately affected by climate change impacts. Public nuisance litigation for climate change impacts is a new and growing field that could provide the legal and policy underpinnings to help secure a viable foundation for climate justice in the United States and internationally. By securing victories in the court system, these suits may succeed where the domestic environmental justice movement failed in seeking to merge environmental protection and human rights concerns into an actionable legal theory. This Article first examines the nature and scope of the climate change impacts that are affecting vulnerable populations throughout the world. It then traces the evolution of public nuisance claims for climate change impacts, discusses the Native Village of Kivalina v. Exxon Mobil Corp. case as a turning point in the evolution of these claims, and considers what obstacles remain on the path toward success for Kivalina and similar suits in the United States and abroad. The Kivalina case involves the right set of facts and legal theories to afford a remedy to victims who are disproportionately affected by climate change. Ultimately, the Kivalina litigation could help to institutionalize climate justice claims as part of the post-Kyoto Protocol framework by recognizing a private right to be free from climate change impacts that threaten the sustainability of vulnerable communities.
Randall S. Abate, Public Nuisance Suits for the Climate Justice Movement: The Right Thing and the Right Time, 85 Wash. L. Rev. 197 (2010).