Home | News    Tuesday 5 October 2010

Industrialized nations risk court actions over climate change effects


October 4, 2010 (JUBA) — Climate-vulnerable developing nations could use international law to break the current deadlock in the intergovernmental negotiations on climate change by taking industrialized nations to court, the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD) has revealed.

The FIELD publication comes as government officials from around the world gather in Tianjin, China for three days of negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

“A large part of the relevant legal literature suggests that the main polluting nations can be held responsible under international law for the harmful effects of their greenhouse-gas emissions,” Christoph Schwarte, author of the October 04 paper said.

He added, “As a result affected countries may have a substantive right to demand the cessation of a certain amount of emissions. In selected cases they also have the procedural means to pursue an inter-state litigation in an international judicial forum such as the International Court of Justice in The Hague.”

Lawyer Schwarte’s paper, according to the press release, also outlines a possible legal argument for such a lawsuit and offers some observations on the potential impacts of bringing a case before an international court or tribunal.

While there are various substantive and procedural legal hurdles, it further says, under certain circumstances litigation under public international law would be possible and could become a bargaining chip in the negotiations.

“Today, a credible case for inter-state litigation on climate change can be made,” Schwarte said, adding that, “Developing country governments are understandably reluctant to challenge any of the big donor nations in an international court or tribunal. But this may change once the impacts of climate change become even more visible and an adequate agreement remains wanting.”

FIELD analyzed the current legal discourse and has summarized its findings in a longer working paper, which it has made available online as an open wiki document to allow legal academics and practitioners to comment on, criticize or strengthen the arguments.

“While international judicial organs are unlikely to issue hard hitting judgments, climate change litigation may help to create the political pressure and third-party guidance required to re-invigorate the international negotiations, within or outside the UNFCCC,” Schwarte observed.

Since the failed Copenhagen summit in 2009, there has been limited progress in the UNFCCC climate negotiations. At the current rate of progress, a new legal framework and ambitious emission reductions look unlikely in the near-term.

As a result billions of extra tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will reportedly be released into the atmosphere, and many scientists warn that this means global temperatures could rise by 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

According to Joy Hyvarinen, Director of FIELD, “Progress in the international climate change negotiations is nowhere near enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a safe level. Something new is needed to push the negotiations forward. Perhaps an international court case could help bring new momentum to the negotiations”.


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