Climate change is such a pressing, dangerous and universal threat that it should be made illegal under international law, a top barrister has told a conference of leading lawyers in London.
Philippe Sands QC, an international law specialist and Professor of Law at University College London, argued that the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) should make it an “obligation under international law” to ensure that global temperatures never rise more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
This would follow the precedent of a landmark decision in June this year by a Dutch court as a result of a case brought by a green activist group – the Urgenda Foundation – against the Netherlands government. The court ruled that the government must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by much more than it had intended – by at least 25 per cent by 2020, relative to 1990 levels – in order to prevent possibly dangerous climate change.
In its judgement the court referred repeatedly to the 2° C target, as if it were an article of holy writ, accepted by all, disputed by no one.
Sands told his audience of leading judges, lawyers and legal academics from 11 nations that the time was now ripe for such legislation to be adopted at the international level:
The ICJ too could play a role in relation to that target, one based on science. It could be asked to confirm, for example, that the 2 degrees Celsius target now reflects an obligation under international law, and that its implementation imposes obligations to reduce emissions, including if necessary by phasing out altogether certain emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
In addressing such an opinion, there is also no reason why the Court could not, within its rules of procedure, open up the process, allowing not only states and international organisations, but also other actors who are stakeholders, including corporations and NGOs, to participate by some effective means. There is nothing in the Court’s rules to preclude it from doing that, especially if the General Assembly so requested.
Were Philippe Sands’s recommendation to be adopted it would inevitably generate billions of dollars of work for international lawyers like Philippe Sands.
Even more damagingly, though, it would more or less toll the death knell of Western industrial civilization – allowing any number of green activist bodies (“actors who are stakeholders”, as Sands calls them) to launch many thousands of vexatious, costly, and sclerosis-inducing law suits against any corporation or government deemed to be producing excess quantities of CO2. Which is to say, potentially, every government and business interest on the planet.
It’s possible, of course, that not even the UN would pass legislation quite so stupid. But the precedent of the Dutch court’s ruling – now being challenged on appeal by the Netherlands government – does not augur well. What it shows – if there were ever any doubt about this – is that the judiciary can be just as gullible, ignorant and susceptible to Appeals to Authority as any other category of vaguely sentient human. If a Dutch court can reach so fatuous a decision, why not a UN one too?
To see why both Sands and that Dutch court are so far off beam, you only have to consider the central premise of their fatally flawed arguments: that it is either possible – or even desirable – to try to limit global temperature rises to a 2° C target.
That target, they clearly aren’t aware, has no serious scientific basis. It was the invention of one man – German left-wing activist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) – who himself admits that he plucked the figure from the air for political reasons at the height of the climate scare in the mid-1990s.
“Two degrees is not a magical limit — it’s clearly a political goal,” says Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). “The world will not come to an end right away in the event of stronger warming, nor are we definitely saved if warming is not as significant. The reality, of course, is much more complicated.”
In other words were that arbitrary limit to be exceeded, it is entirely possible that the benefits would far outweigh the disadvantages. But even if they didn’t, there’s absolutely no point in trying to legislate to prevent it happening because, as has become abundantly clear after the last couple of decades’ intense study, the ability of humans to alter the climate in any significant way is minimal.
For more detailed analysis of just what a sinister development this is, I recommend you read this superb investigation by Donna Laframboise, who was the first skeptic to cotton on to the significance of Sands’s speech. Sands is a dangerous man; even more so the man who instigated the conference, a hitherto obscure activist judge called Lord Carnwath.