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No one, rich or poor, can escape air pollution. It is a silent public health emergency
by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
World Health Organization, agencies
27 Oct. 2018
Air pollution is the “new tobacco”, the head of the World Health Organization has warned, saying the simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people a year and harming billions more.
Over 90% of the world’s population suffers toxic air and research is increasingly revealing the profound impacts on the health of people, especially children.
“The world has turned the corner on tobacco. Now it must do the same for the ‘new tobacco’ – the toxic air that billions breathe every day,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general. “No one, rich or poor, can escape air pollution. It is a silent public health emergency.”
“Despite this epidemic of needless, preventable deaths and disability, a smog of complacency pervades the planet,” Tedros said, in an article for the Guardian. “This is a defining moment and we must scale up action to urgently respond to this challenge.”
The WHO is hosting its first global conference on air pollution and health in Geneva next week, including a high-level action day at which nations and cities are expected to make new commitments to cut air pollution.
Children and babies’ developing bodies are most at risk from toxic air, said Dr Maria Neira, WHO director for public health and the environment, with 300 million living in places where toxic fumes are six times above international guidelines.
“Air pollution is affecting all of us but children are the most vulnerable of all,” she said, noting the alarm among child health experts about the links between toxic air and respiratory diseases, cancer and damaged intelligence. “We have to ask what are we doing to our children, and the answer I am afraid is shockingly clear: we are polluting their future, and this is very worrying for all us.”
Tedros said: “A clean and healthy environment is the single most important precondition for ensuring good health. By cleaning up the air we breathe, we can prevent or at least reduce some of the greatest health risks.”
The WHO is working with health professionals not only to help their patients, but also to give them the skills and evidence to advocate for health in policy decisions such as moving away from fossil-fuel-powered energy and transport. “No person, group, city, country or region can solve the problem alone,” he said. “We need strong commitments and actions from everyone.”
In the UK for example, most urban areas have illegal levels of air pollution and ministers have lost three times in the high court after challenges over the inadequacy of their action. The latest government action plan, called “pitiful” by environmental lawyers, revealed air pollution was actually much worse than previously feared.
Globally, with smoking on the decline, air pollution now causes more deaths annually than tobacco. However, researchers think the harm known to be caused by air pollution, such as heart attacks and lung disease, is only “the tip of the iceberg”.
The figure of 7 million early deaths is certain to be an underestimate, as it only includes particle pollution and the five most firmly linked causes of death. Early estimates using improved models indicate a total figure of 9 million from particle pollution.
Daniel Krewski at the University of Ottawa, one of the team behind the newer estimate, said: “This suggests that outdoor air pollution is an even more important risk factor for health than previously thought.”
Each passing month sees new studies showing further harms of toxic air, with recent revelations including a “huge reduction” in intelligence, millions of diabetes cases and the first direct evidence of pollution particles in mothers’ placentas.
The cost of the lost lives and ill health caused is also a colossal economic burden: $5tn a year, according to a World Bank report. Tackling air pollution by closing polluting power plants and shifting to cleaner transport, such as cycling or electric cars, has a double benefit as it also tackles climate change.
Neira said that, given the overwhelming evidence of harm from air pollution, any politician who failed to tackle air pollution would be judged harshly by future generations – and the law.
“Politicians cannot say in 10 years from now, when citizens will start to take them to court for the harm they have suffered, that they didn’t know,” she said. “We all know pollution is causing major damage and we all know it is something we can avoid. Now we need to react collectively and in a very dramatic and urgent way.”

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Climate Change Litigation a powerful tool to hold decision-makers to account for climate inaction
by IBA, ClientEarth, agencies
Oct. 2018
Historic climate litigation result stands after Dutch court victory, by James Thornton.. (Client Earth)
Climate litigators are celebrating after a second landmark court victory that will hold the Netherlands government to account for greater action on climate change.
The Hague Court of Appeal has upheld a historic win for the Urgenda Foundation on behalf of 886 Dutch citizens in their climate case, rejecting the Dutch government’s arguments.
A day after the UN IPCC report outlined the urgent climate action needed to restrict global warming to 1.5 degrees, the Dutch court today affirmed that any less than a 25% reduction in carbon emissions by the Netherlands government before 2020 would be a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Dutch emissions are currently only 13% lower compared to 1990 levels and have stagnated during the last six years.
The original legal victory by Urgenda inspired a wave of climate lawsuits worldwide, brought by people determined to hold their governments accountable for a lack of climate action.
ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said: “Today’s news shows just what a powerful tool climate litigation has become in holding decision-makers to account for their climate inaction.
“For a second time now, a Dutch court has ruled that the country’s government has a constitutional duty to protect its citizens from the impacts of climate change and that anything less is a violation of their human rights.
“This second victory shows that Dutch judges have been clear about what the government must do now: accept both decisions and refocus its efforts on reducing its carbon emissions by 25% by 2020.
“This is the climate case that started it all, inspiring similar lawsuits worldwide. It has completely changed the debate on climate policy and will inspire people everywhere to use the power of the courts to hold their leaders to account for greater action on climate change.”
29 Oct. 2018
World-first climate risk case launched over major coal plant in Poland
Polish energy company Enea is facing a world-first legal challenge for pushing ahead with a controversial coal power plant despite widespread market concern about its exposure to climate-related financial risks.
It is the first time a company will have to defend itself in court over a failure to manage material climate-related financial risk when making a major investment decision.
The legal challenge, in brief
ClientEarth, a shareholder in Enea, has filed a challenge against the company’s decision to greenlight the €1.2bn, 1GW Ostroleka C coal power plant. The resolution authorising the contested plant passed at a shareholder meeting last month, despite sharp minority shareholder dissent.
The court action hinges on the “indefensible” financial risk the project poses to investors due to rising carbon prices, increased competition from cheaper renewables and the impact of EU energy reforms on state subsidies for coal power under the capacity market.
The legal challenge is an uncomfortable development as the country prepares to host the COP24 global climate conference in December.
ClientEarth lawyer Peter Barnett said: “This plant is a stranded asset in the making. The economic analysis is clear and there is widespread market concern about the plant.
“Companies and their directors are legally responsible for managing the financial risks and opportunities posed by climate change. Enea appears to be turning a blind eye to the well-documented risks threatening this project.
“Shareholders cannot sit back as companies gamble their funds on expensive, outdated and polluting technologies – climate litigation is only going to pick up the pace for companies that cling to fossil fuels.”
Financial risks abound
Analysts at Carbon Tracker have said Ostroleka C is “destined to be a financial and economic disaster”, with its recent report finding the project could generate a negative net present value of up to €1.7bn over its lifetime if it does not secure capacity market payments – these payments are “far from guaranteed” and will not be allocated until December.
EuroRating downgraded Enea’s joint venture partner Energa in July, citing the main reason as Energa’s signing the construction contract for Ostroleka C.
On top of multiple industry experts questioning the project’s profitability, the €1tn global asset manager Legal & General Investment Management last week pointed to the project’s “very high financial risks” and said Enea and its partner Energa should not proceed with the project until they provide evidence of its financial viability.
Still time to withdraw
Enea and Energa remain bullishly committed to the planned plant, with Energa’s CFO stating earlier this month that there is “no turning back”. But Enea and Energa’s investment agreement provides that either party can withdraw before the construction stage (which has not yet formally commenced) if the project proves unprofitable.
ClientEarth Head of Central and Eastern Europe Marcin Stoczkiewicz said: “The Polish government and Enea’s competitors are increasingly moving away from coal and towards renewables. This dogged commitment to build another coal plant undermines Poland’s clean energy aims and presents an indefensible threat to shareholders’ money in light of such strong market concerns.
“The Polish government has a key opportunity to show a clean energy ambition before the climate conference in December. Financial reality and legal action are closing in on this plant – and on the wider coal industry. Enea needs to withdraw from Ostroleka C, not lock investors in.”
The EGM saw Enea fail to gain minority shareholder support for Ostroleka C, with 58% of minority shareholders participating in the general meeting abstaining from voting and 22% voting against the plant. The resolution passed as a result of the Polish State Treasury’s controlling interest, meaning that construction is now a decision for the companies’ boards.
International litigation firm Boies Schiller Flexner is representing ClientEarth pro bono in the dispute. Karasek & Wejman are representing ClientEarth in the Polish court proceedings.
15 October 2018
Financial regulators step up to present united front on climate risk
The Bank of England’s Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) have today released statements on the systemic impact of climate change to UK financial markets.
They are consulting on how they should respond to ensure that institutions like banks, insurers and pension providers are properly managing and reporting on the accompanying risks to their business.
Responding to the interventions, ClientEarth lawyer Danielle Lawson said: “You don’t need to spend long considering recent headlines on increased extreme weather events to understand that climate change is a pressing issue which is likely to transform not just the physical environment around us but also the financial world that we depend on. However, it is clear that up until now banks and insurers, among others, have not been addressing this issue with the urgency and rigour it demands.
The PRA wants systemically important financial institutions to engage with the risks posed to their businesses by climate change at a strategic level and to demonstrate to both regulators and customers that they are looking ahead to manage future risks as they develop.
The regulators are also making it clear that they view firms as already having obligations to consider climate risk and that compliance with existing rules on governance and disclosure may increasingly be assessed in this light.
Oct. 2018
New York State Attorney General files Lawsuit against Exxonmobil for Defrauding Investors regarding Financial Risk the Company faces from Climate Change Regulations.
Investigation into Exxon’s Business Practices uncovered an alleged fraudulent scheme to systematically and repeatedly deceive Investors about the Significant Impact that Future Climate Change Regulations could have on the Company’s Assets and Value. Alleged Fraud reached highest levels, as former Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson knew of misrepresentations for Years
NEW YORK – Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood today announced a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corporation (“Exxon”), alleging that the company misled investors regarding the risk that climate change regulations posed to its business. As alleged in the complaint, Exxon for years assured investors that it was accounting for the likelihood of increasingly stringent regulation of greenhouse gas emissions – which are driving climate change and which Exxon emits in large quantity – by rigorously and consistently applying an escalating cost of those emissions to its business planning, investment decisions, calculations of the amount and value of company reserves and resources, impairment assessments, and projections of future demand for oil and gas.
However, Exxon did not abide by these representations, and instead did much less than it claimed, deceiving investors as to the company’s true financial exposure to increasing regulations and policies adopted to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.
Exxon marketed the company as a secure long-term investment and courted long-term investors such as institutional shareholders, life insurance companies, and pension funds..

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