by Judith Curry
The scientific case is strengthening: developed countries are to blame for global warming – and there will soon be a legal reckoning. – Chris Huhne
Chris Huhne has an article in the Guardian: It won’t be long before the victims of climate change make the west pay. Excerpts:
There are legitimate doubts about the scale of the impact, and about other offsetting factors that may reduce human-induced global warming. But what should be a wake-up call is science’s growing ability to highlight the blame for particular extreme events.
For instance, a recent paper by Fraser C Lott and colleagues examined the increased probability that the 2011 East African drought in Somalia and Kenya can be attributed to human-induced climate change. Pardeep Pal and others investigated the impact of climate change on the £1.3bn insured losses from the flooding in the UK in 2000. Peter A Stott and others looked at the hot European summer of 2003, and its heatwave-related deaths.
Richard Washington, the professor of climate science at Oxford, rightly highlights the importance of this scientific work for its ability to change the global political and legal game.
The science also opens up the possibility that the victims of climate change could begin to take international legal action against the countries responsible, particularly the early industrialisers, such as Britain, Belgium and Germany, whose carbon continues to warm the planet a century after it was emitted. Legal action is not a substitute for politics, but it could highlight the evidence in an uncomfortable way.
This year a group of small island states threatened by rising sea levels, led by Palau, came close to asking the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on the responsibility of historic emitters for global warming. The main reason they did not press ahead then was that the scientific case is strengthening by the month. A later case will be even stronger.
“There will definitely be a case in my lifetime and probably within five to 10 years,” says Philippe Sands QC, the UCL professor of international law, who has advised many endangered nations, including Bangladesh. “It is going to happen. The only questions now are where, how and to what purpose.”
The UN framework may not be ideal, precisely because it is dominated by the historic five powers, all of whom have their own interests. But the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea may be a forum that would hear the matter.
It is not a defence that we did not know what we were doing, nor does a case have to target everyone who might have historic responsibility: countries are jointly and severally liable, which may help to deal with the problem that the United States is often not a signatory and hence denies international jurisdiction.
Paradoxically, one of the strongest cards that the historic emitters can play is to highlight the international effort to tackle climate change. Legally, they can argue that the global process under way since 1992 through the Kyoto Protocol and the countless meetings of the “convention of the parties”, is itself a response to the need for action, and displaces the need for lawsuits.
But that implies that the global political process must hold out – as it can and should – a real possibility of delivering change. If it fails, the historic emitters may want to consider some of the consequences, not least of which is the possibility that embarrassing legal cases will display the increasingly strong scientific evidence about who is to blame.
The chickens are coming home to roost – whereby misguided attempts to attribute extreme events to AGW are providing fodder for future lawsuits against countries that industrialized early.
On a previous post Workshop on attribution of extreme events, this statement from the Nature editorial sums it up:
One critic argued that, given the insufficient observational data and the coarse and mathematically far-from-perfect climate models used to generate attribution claims, they are unjustifiably speculative, basically unverifiable and better not made at all.
In agreement with the Nature editorial, I have written numerous previous points on why I think attempts at attributing extreme events is pointless, from a scientific perspective:
The same climate models that failed to predict the 15+ year hiatus and and cannot resolve most extreme weather events simply cannot be used sensibly in analyses of attribution of extreme weather events. Further, as I have argued in previous posts, the whole problem of extreme event attribution is ill posed.
As for the politics of all this, the linkage with emission mitigation policy is interesting – success or failure of mitigation policies may rev up or quash litigation related to extreme events.