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Environmental liability litigation could remedy biodiversity loss

Phelps, Jacob, Aravind, Sakshi, Cheyne, Susan, Dabrowski Pedrini, Isabella, Fajrini, Rika, Jones, Carol A, Lees, Alexander C, Mance, Anna, Nagara, Grahat, Nugraha, Taufiq P, Pendergrass, John, Purnamasari, Umi, Rodriguez, Maribel, Saputra, Roni, Sharp, Stuart P, Sokolowki, Amir and Webb, Edward L (2021) Environmental liability litigation could remedy biodiversity loss. Conservation Letters, 14 (6). e12821. ISSN 1755-263X

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Abstract

Many countries allow lawsuits to hold responsible parties liable for the environmental harm they cause. Such litigation remains largely untested in most biodiversity hotspots and is rarely used in response to leading drivers of biodiversity loss, including illegal wildlife trade. Yet, liability litigation is a potentially ground-breaking conservation strategy to remedy harm to biodiversity by seeking legal remedies such as species rehabilitation, public apologies, habitat conservation and education, with the goal of making the injured parties ‘whole’. However, precedent cases, expert guidance, and experience to build such conservation lawsuits is nascent in most countries. We propose a simplified framework for developing conservation lawsuits across countries and conservation contexts. We explain liability litigation in terms of three dimensions: (1) defining the harm that occurred, (2) identifying appropriate remedies to that harm, and (3) understanding what remedies the law and courts will allow. We illustrate the framework via a hypothetical lawsuit against an illegal orangutan trader in Indonesia. We highlight that conservationists’ expertise is essential to characterizing harm and identifying remedies, and could more actively contribute to strategic, science-based litigation. This would identify priority contexts, target defendants responsible for egregious harm, propose novel and meaningful remedies, and build new transdisciplinary collaborations.

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