Request Free Trial
August 30, 2023

Editor’s note: the cost of clean air and the science behind climate lawsuits

Ultra low emission zone Ulez sign
London mayor Sadiq Khan confirmed the controversial larger ultra low emission zone in the UK capital on August 29 (Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images)

The latest edition of our Sustainable Views newsletter.

Dear reader,

The politicisation of ESG in the US is loud and clear – you only need to pay passing attention to presidential campaign speeches to hear it. Or to feel its effect on companies’ muted public stance on environmental and social issues.

There typically is Republican backlash to the inclusion of sustainability in business and investment decisions, and then comes the backlash to the backlash from liberal leaning figures. (You can find a bit of background and some examples here, here and here.)

In Europe, including the UK, conversations usually sing a different tune. Here, it’s more about how to go about it than whether ESG factors should be considered at all. Political arguments, though, are starting to creep in. 

You’ll remember that a few months ago French president Emmanuel Macron called for a pause on green rule-making. And more recently, in the UK, the Labour party’s failure to win a by-election in the London constituency of Uxbridge was blamed on mayor Sadiq Khan’s plans to explain the city’s ultra low emission zone, which imposes a charge on drivers of older and more polluting vehicles.

Khan confirmed the larger Ulez yesterday – though he shelved plans for a stricter zero emission zone in the central part of the British capital. Conservative prime minister Rishi Sunak was quick to criticise the charge expansion. Khan refused to comment on whether the Ulez could hurt Labour at the next general election, in two years.

With the London mayoral vote taking place before then, in 2024, expect clean air (and its economic costs, whichever way you look at them) to play a growing role in British political debates.

As for us, today we look at how science is supporting legal debates over climate change. Claudia has a fascinating piece on the successful lawsuit against the US state of Montana by a group of 16 youths.

“Attribution science”, experts told her, was at the basis of the case’s success – and it could support others currently going through the courts. 

This is a new scientific field studying the impact of climate change on the intensity and frequency of severe weather events. It can establish causality in relation to individual storms, droughts or heatwaves and, crucially, it can single out the contribution of specific activities or even organisations to global warming. 

The article includes links to a few detailed reports should you wish to dig into the subject further, as well as a list of some pending climate lawsuits globally.

Until tomorrow,


Silvia Pavoni is the editor of Sustainable Views


A service from the Financial Times