COP21: 10 reasons governments must turn Paris pledges into national law

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Governments must make Paris pledges law at home

Environmental lawyers, senior members of the British legal establishment and campaigners have written an open letter in the Times to every world leader, challenging them to guarantee their own Paris pledges will be made law at home, whatever the outcome at COP21.

1. Why do Paris pledges need to be made into national law?

If countries are really committed to honouring their pledges, law is the best tool at their disposal. Law creates certainty, gives business the confidence to innovate and holds everyone to account under the common aim of curbing climate change.

2. Would a market response be more effective than a legal response?

Market solutions, while a key part of the puzzle, can be patchy and open to manipulation. Governments must set the legal framework for markets to respond to. Without effective legislation, market tools will not work. Laws set out a clear framework and, crucially, make governments and industry accountable for their actions.

3. Is it right to tell other countries how to meet their pledges?

These pledges have gone through intense negotiation at national level, taking into account the views of treasuries, industry and individuals. Making them law is a natural next step to ensure the priorities of everyone in those negotiations are met. Our work has shown that law is the best way to create lasting change, which is what we need for a truly historic global deal.

4. What’s the point if some countries won’t make their pledges legally binding?

All countries have a responsibility to do everything they can to tackle this global threat. A race to the bottom on climate pledges will destroy the world we all depend on. By making the strongest commitment possible and backing it with law, governments set an example that will pressure others into compliance. It is the best way to ensure everyone pulls their weight.

5. What about countries that don’t have the legal and financial resources to make and enforce binding law?

All the countries making pledges in Paris have worked with their policymakers, industry and people to agree a climate commitment. There will never be a better time to turn these into binding law. ClientEarth and other organisations stand ready to help them, and laws exist in countries like the UK which could be replicated in others. The IBA is also working on climate legislation designed to be easily adapted for constitutions around the world. The resources and the will exist to help those countries with fewer resources. It is time for us all to commit to a legal solution. Making binding changes now will save time and money in the long run. No country can afford to leave meeting these pledges to chance.

6. What are the alternatives to binding law?

Law can be more or less binding, and it can apply to targets as well as the processes which drive progress towards those targets. Aside from law, tax, policy responses and business innovation must have a role. But these are relatively weak, unreliable and lack accountability. We need a fast, effective global response to climate change. Law is the only way to make this happen.

7. Which countries have pledged to make legally binding emissions reduction targets?

One-third of the Paris pledges will lead to new policies and legislation. Nicaragua has refused to make any pledge in the absence of legally binding commitments from other countries, saying: “We’re not going to submit because voluntary responsibility is a path to failure.”

8. Which already have climate change legislation?

A number of countries including the UK, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Denmark, Germany, Mozambique and Slovakia already have some laws on climate change mitigation and adaptation. However, their effectiveness varies and the Paris pledges are the best way to solidify the commitment of these and all governments around the world.

9. How will the EU’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution relate to UK emissions cutting targets and the Climate Change Act?

We expect the targets agreed in Paris to be broadly comparable to the UK’s targets under the Climate Change Act. However, in order to be certain, we need first to see whether the EU agrees a 40% target for 2030 or something more ambitious, and then, in due course, how the EU divides that target among member states.

In addition, the target for 2030 under the Climate Change Act is not yet settled. In its recent recommendation, the Climate Change Committee said the UK should reduce emissions by 57% in its fifth carbon budget, which will run from 2028 – 2032. Assuming the government follows this recommendation when it sets the carbon budget (next June), this is expected to be broadly in line with a 40% 2030 target set at Paris, once it has been divided among member states (as larger and wealthier countries like the UK will have to do more than some others).

10. Will the EU Intended Nationally Determined Contribution be enshrined in law in the UK?

Once countries commit to their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) at COP21, they become Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCS).

The EU’s NDC will not be enshrined into law under the UK Climate Change Act, but we expect it to be binding on the UK through EU law. The EU will translate the NDC into EU law, and this will apply in the UK either directly, or through UK regulations. The level of the UK’s fifth carbon budget (2028 – 2032) may well be broadly in line with the EU’s NDC, but we would not expect it to marry up exactly with the UK’s contribution towards meeting the EU’s NDC.

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