Today a group of eminent jurists accuse governments and enterprises of being in clear and flagrant breach of their legal obligations on climate change – under human rights law, international law, environmental law, and tort law.
Human ravaging of our planet and climate through relentless fossil fuel extraction and greenhouse gas emissions is undoubtedly the defining existential challenge of our time. Our collective failure to commit to meaningful reductions in emissions is a political and moral travesty, with catastrophic implications, particularly for the poorest and most marginalised, domestically and globally.
The dismal pace of international negotiations – and the prospect of yet more disappointment at the UN Paris conference in December – is why the Guardian has thrown its weight behind a divestment campaign, pressurising moral investors to take a stand against those responsible for the greatest emissions. After all, two-thirds of all greenhouse emissions come from just 90 coal, oil and gas companies.
But in the Oslo Principles on Global Climate Change Obligations a working group of current and ex-judges, advocates and professors, drawn from each region of the world, argue that any new international agreement will just be a coda to obligations already present, pressing and unavoidable in existing law.
What the Oslo principles offer is a solution to our infuriating impasse in which governments – especially those from developed nations, responsible for 70% of the world’s emissions between 1890 and 2007 – are in effect saying: “We all agree that something needs to be done, but we cannot agree on who has to do what and how much. In the absence of any such agreement, we have no obligation to do anything.” The Oslo principles bring a battery of legal arguments to dispute and disarm that second claim. In essence, the working group asserts that governments are violating their legal duties if they each act in a way that, collectively, is known to lead to grave harms.
Governments will retort that they cannot know their obligations to reduce emissions in the absence of an international agreement. The working group’s response is that they can know this, already, and with sufficient precision.