Journal of Human Rights and the Environment

Climate change and environmental justice: reflections on litigation over oil extraction and rights violations in Nigeria

Hari M Osofsky * *

Keywords: Shell Oil, Nigeria, environmental justice, law, geography


This article uses developments in three cases claiming environmental harm and human rights violations arising from Shell Oil's operations in Nigeria – brought in the United States, the Netherlands, and Nigeria – to explore the complex intersection of transnational corporate responsibility, environmental justice, and climate change. It considers the nature of environmental rights violations in general and those in Nigeria in particular, the barriers to addressing these problems through law, and the ways in which the problem of climate change intersects with these justice dilemmas. The article takes an interdisciplinary law and geography approach to these issues, analysing how the way in which we view the nation-state, the multinational corporation, and their interrelationship influences our understanding of the state–corporate relationships in, and justice implications of, these situations. It argues that whether we treat Nigeria and Shell Oil as enclosed, permeable, or enmeshed spaces limits or expands the ways in which these cases might fit into broader environmental justice strategies. The article concludes with an assessment of how future efforts might build upon these cases and this analysis of their implications.

Author Notes

I would like to thank Andrew Atkins, Heather Briggs, Crystal Doyle, David Gundlach, Elizabeth Njuguna, Elizabeth Petty, Michelle Platt, and Efe Ukala for their very helpful research assistance on this piece, and Washington and Lee University School of Law's Francis Lewis Law Center for its research support. As always, I tremendously appreciate the love, support, and patience of Josh, Oz and Scarlet Gitelson.

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