Climate change litigation cases have tripled globally since 2014, according to a report by the UN Environment Programme and the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

Cases were most prolific in the US, where 654 were filed, almost three times that in the rest of the world combined. Around 177 countries recognise the right of citizens to a clean and healthy environment, and courts are increasingly being asked to define the implications of this right regarding climate change, the study found.

Governments were almost always the defendants in climate change cases. However, there have been cases against corporations in the fossil-fuel sector, mostly in the US. There was also a case filed in Germany against energy company RWE, and an investigation of 50 firms in the fossil-fuel industry by the Human Rights Commission of the Philippines.

The report identifies emerging trends, including cases concerning climate refugees, as well as human rights as a result of migration, settlement, disaster recovery and access to resources. Litigation is addressing a widening range of activities, including coastal development and resource extraction, and has grown in ambition and effectiveness, it found.

The Paris Agreement, signed in 2015, has enabled people, companies and campaign groups to argue that their governments’ political statements must be backed up by concrete measures, the report concludes.