Climate Accountability Research

Chairs: Lisa Benjamin (Lewis and Clark Law School) and Joana Setzer (London School of Economics)


The climate accountability working group brings together scholars from different disciplines, methodologies and geographic locations to identify and explore the direct relationship between social science research and climate accountability and litigation. Social science research has already played a foundational role in existing climate accountability efforts, for example, the work by Naomi Oreskes and others on corporate climate disinformation campaigns. The group will identify research gaps that exist in this area, and how those gaps could be filled.  This working group will assess other social science research which can fuel either new types of climate litigation or other accountability mechanisms, or boost existing climate litigation efforts, and lead to climate and energy transitions in both governments and other types of organizations.

Some of the areas we will explore include (but are not limited to) the five areas set out below. These areas have policy overlaps, and we anticipate research in this area can and will interact with and affect one another. We consider it useful to focus both on global North and global South populations, differences and similarities of climate governance and approaches between and within these geographic areas, and across urban and rural divides. We also anticipate investigating a diverse set of companies involved in carbon intensive activities (including investor owned and state-owned companies), as well as those companies involved in climate action:

  1. Supply chain litigation and accountability. Supply chain analysis can illustrate multiple levels of value creation and the various corporate actors involved in carbon intensive commercial and trade activity. Research which demonstrates supply chain relationships and nodes of overlap between trading partners, GHG emissions and environmental degradation can provide fertile ground for identifying new defendants in climate litigation (i.e. a Heede/ ‘Carbon Majors’ equivalent for supply chains’);
  2. Lobbying accountability and litigation. Social research can help provide a better public understanding of lobbying efforts, who is lobbing whom, and for what ends. What kinds of subsidies are provided to actors involved in carbon intensive activities and climate action. This investigation can open up new fronts for litigation, including some previously overlooked but carbon intensive industries such as the meat, dairy and agricultural industries;
  3. Identifying greenwashing and miscommunication of risks. Establishing assessment methodologies to better understand the quality of climate-related risk disclosures by companies. Detailed and accurate disclosures can provide decision-useful information for investors, financial regulators, and the general public, and in turn can lead to improved climate action. Uniform methodologies for analysis can help identify green washing efforts and distinguish them from ambitious climate assessment and action;
  4. Media and discourse analysis of how climate litigation is perceived. With litigation increasing, it is important to understand the public’s perception of courts and lawyers and their roles in climate change and climate litigation. Is the judicialization of climate change perceived as a positive or negative development? Social scientists can analyse what media coverage of climate litigation looks like, and what affect this has on public discourse around climate change. The outcome of these analyses could either lead to an increase or decrease in funding for climate litigation;
  5. Understanding reactive litigation. Climate litigation can increase accountability and drive ambition, but can also challenge climate action and decarbonisation efforts. This could include reactive litigation by carbon majors themselves in their efforts to halt or delay climate litigation, strategic lawsuits against public participation suits, or resistance to renewable energy projects through judicial and non-judicial proceedings (e.g. international arbitration). This area will investigate the impacts of reactive litigation on energy transitions.

We will convene our first meeting of the working group in January 2021 (virtually), with the aim of starting research in the Spring of 2021, and producing an initial mapping document in the summer of 2021.

Please contact us if you would like to be involved in this working group at or