Trends in international climate legislation since the Paris Agreement, built on a new public database

A new database , launched in May,  compiles national climate change legislation for 164 countries in the world, as well as a integrated climate  litigation database for 25 countries, including Canada.  U.S. litigation is available in a separate database hosted by  the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University .  The entire project is the work of  the Grantham Institute at the London School of Economics and the Sabin Center.

The database was the foundation of a new report, Global Trends in Climate Change Legislation and Litigation 2017 , the sixth in a series that began in 2010.  The report  highlights the global stock of climate laws, the pace of law-making, the focus of legislation, and climate legislation in least developed countries . The second part of the report, for the first time ever, examines trends in litigation , describing the number of climate litigation cases in 25 jurisdictions, the objectives of the cases, who the plaintiffs and defendants were , and the outcomes of litigation so far.   A press release states: “These developments in climate legislation and policies since Paris should be taken in context. The 14 new laws and 33 policies add to a stock of more than 1,200 climate change or climate change-relevant laws worldwide: a twentyfold increase in the number of climate laws and policies over 20 years when compared with 1997 when there were just 60 such laws in place. … Most countries now have the legal basis on which further action can build.”    The summary of the report  by The Guardian highlights this optimistic note.

The report is the work of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, and the Sabin Center on Climate Change Law at the Columbia Law School, with the support of the  Inter-Parliamentary Union  and the British Academy.  It was  launched at the UNFCCC meetings in Bonn on May 9.

The database  is available to the public, and “users are welcome to download, save, or distribute the results electronically or in any other format, without written permission of the authors.” Acknowledging that the database is not yet comprehensive, contributions are also invited: “Please send your comments (attaching supporting documents if possible) to: gri.cgl@lse.ac.uk.”

B.C. Municipalities urged to take fossil fuel giants to court

In January,  West Coast Environmental Law and over 50 other environmental, health, human rights, women’s rights, and faith-based organizations sent an Open Letter  to local municipalities in British Columbia, urging them  1.) to write to fossil fuel companies, demanding accountability for the climate change costs being borne by citizens , and 2.) To consider participating in a class action lawsuit against the big polluters.  As part of their new  initiative, called   Climate Law in Our Own Hands  , West Coast Environmental Law is offering legal research and support to interested local governments, as well as template letters and fossil fuel company addresses to facilitate the  letter-writing campaign.  WCEL argues that fossil fuel companies will only start working towards climate change solutions when they are held to account to pay their fair share for the damage being caused.   According to one of the Open Letter signatories, Sierra Club B.C. , “The Province of BC has estimated that Metro Vancouver Municipalities will need to spend $9.5 billion between now and 2100 to address rising sea-levels (about $100 million per year on average).”  The list could continue to add wildfires, the destruction of forests by the mountain pine beetle, drought, and extreme weather.

WCEL  is not new to this issue, but rather have been active since the 2015 landmark Urgenda case in the Netherlands , when they released their report  Taking climate justice into our own hands  , which included a draft Climate Compensation Act .  The new website,  Climate Law in Our Own Hands maintains a blog about legal actions around the world, including a November 2016  report about  420 “grannies”  in Switzerland who are working with  Greenpeace Switzerland to launch a legal challenge  against the Swiss government for inadequately addressing threats to their health and future generations from climate change.  Other high profile court cases underway include the challenge to stop Arctic drilling  by  Norweigian youth and Greenpeace in Norway ,  and the ongoing cases led by  Our Children’s Trust   against the U.S. federal and state  governments.  The federal case,  Juliana v.United States  first launched in 2015,  and most recently (November 10, 2016) has been permitted to proceed to trail, after Judge Ann Aiken issued an opinion and order denying the U.S. government and fossil fuel industry’s motions to dismiss .  The 21 plaintiffs, mostly teenagers, are suing for the constitutional right of future generations  to live in  a healthy and safe environment.

Non-violent climate insurgency: people using the power of the law to protect the planet

Despite the hooplah of Paris and Marakkesh,  a new article by Jeremy Brecher argues that climate protection will never be accomplished by existing government and institutional actors.  “Climate Emergency: Global Insurgency: There is no choice but to escalate today’s campaigns against global fossil fuel infrastructure”  appeared in Common Dreams  on October 14  , and while the author commends the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, (mirrored in Canada by protests against the Kinder Morgan Pipeline) he quotes Bill McKibben that “Fighting one pipeline at a time, the industry will eventually prevail.” Brecher advocates instead what he calls a “global nonviolent constitutional insurgency”.  “A non-violent insurgency, like an armed insurgency, refuses to accept the limits on its action imposed by the powers that be. Unlike an armed insurgency, it eschews violence and instead expresses power by mobilizing people for mass nonviolent direct action….It is not formally a revolutionary movement because it does not challenge the legitimacy of the fundamental law; rather, it asserts that current officials are in violation of the very laws that they themselves claim provide the justification for their authority. Although the established courts may condemn and punish them, constitutional insurgents view their “civil disobedience” as actually obedience to law, even a form of law enforcement.”

Recalling the great civil disobedience campaigns of Gandhi, the American civil rights movement, and Polish Solidarity movement , Brecher points to the current “Break Free From Fossil Fuels” global campaign, begun after the Paris Agreement in 2015, as an encouraging start to the climate insurgency he advocates.   The U.S. organizers of Break Free From Fossil Fuels issued a “Public Trust Proclamation”   which summarizes the principles.  The legal actions inspired by the Urgenda case and  Our Children’s Trust in the U.S. share many of the same values, but apply them in the courts.  Brecher links these two movements in an earlier article, “A new wave of climate insurgents defines itself as law-enforcers“.   Brecher’s 2014 book,   Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival    has been updated and reissued as a free ebook , to make it as widely available as possible to those who want to understand and help halt climate change.

Note:  In Canada, the May 2016 Break Free protests were focused on the Kinder Morgan pipeline (photos still available here ).  Protests are continuing – including sit-ins in the offices of government ministers in November, as even the federal government’s Ministerial Panel Report , released on November 3, raises questions about how the pipeline fits with the government’s commitments on climate change, First Nations reconciliation, and social license for fossil fuel projects. According to Environmental Defence, rejecting Kinder Morgan and restarting the review process after reforming the National Energy Board is the only viable option for the federal government.  The government’s decision is due December 19, and is seen as a defining moment for the Trudeau government to demonstrate a clear commitment to its climate goals, rather than a compromise with energy/economics.

The Youth of Norway are suing for their constitutional climate rights

The government of Norway and thirteen oil companies are being sued  by Greenpeace International and a Norwegian youth alliance called Nature and Youth, who are challenging the government’s decision to allow oil exploration in the Barents Sea.  The suit argues that further oil exploration violates  threatens Norway’s commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement and violates the constitutional right to a healthy and safe environment for future generations.  Two  Greenpeace blogs emphasize that this is meant to be an historic case, protecting the final frontier of the Arctic, and also exercising the  people-power of a new generation stepping up to hold governments accountable to their climate promises. Read “This is the People vs. Arctic Oil”  and  “Why we are taking Arctic Oil to Court” , which appeals to the global community for support.  (Note: the Greenpeace Canada also maintains an Arctic campaign  but the website doesn’t reflect the Norwegian case yet).   An article in Common Dreams,    “Norwegian Youth Taking Government to Court Over ‘Unconstitutional’ Arctic Drilling”   explains the case fully and makes the links with the U.S. case brought by James Hansen and  Our Children’s Trust  .  The groundbreaking federal lawsuit by Our Children’s Trust, having been challenged repeatedly by the fossil fuel industry,  is under review by a U.S. District Court Judge, who heard oral arguments on September 13 . A decision is expected by  mid-November, at which time the case will head to trial, or go to appeal.  Our Children’s Trust is the subject of an October article in Fusion: “Generational Injustice:  Inside the Legal Movement  suing for Climate Justice Now”   .

Global Survey of National Climate and Energy Legisation Ranks Canada as a Laggard

A February report surveys the development of climate change and energy legislation in 66 countries which account for 88% of the world’s emissions. The survey, co-authored by the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE) and the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics, finds that 62 of the 66 countries have passed, or are in the process of passing, significant legislation; the countries lagging are Venezuela, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Canada. China and Mexico are held up as examples of progress; Japan and Australia are judged to have regressed.

See the 700-page GLOBE Climate Legislation Study: A Review of Climate Change Legislation in 66 Countries (4th edition) at: http://www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/publications/Policy/docs/Globe2014.pdf; the GLOBE website is at: http://www.globeinternational.org/. And, for a further review of Canadian policy initiatives, see Regulating Carbon Emissions in Canada: Climate Policy Year in Review and Trends, 2013 at: http://www.iisd.org/pdf/2014/canadian_carbon_policy_review_2013.pdf. This annual review by the International Institute on Sustainable Development was released in February 2014, summarizing landmark policy initiatives and predicting issues to watch in 2014. For the coming year, it emphasizes the importance of provincial action, in the absence of central, federal leadership.