by Judith Curry
A British academic wants an international court to declare climate skeptics wrong, once and for all.
From Donna LaFramboise [link]:
Last week, a three-day conference took place in the UK attended by a “key group of the world’s leading judges, lawyers and legal academics.” Pompously titled Adjudicating the Future: Climate Change and the Rule of Law, its Twitter hashtag was #ClimateCourts. Some of its events were held in the very room in which UK Supreme Court decisions are delivered.
The Supreme Court has a YouTube channel where you can watch law professor Philippe Sands argue, at that conference, that the International Court of Justice (which he describes as “the principal judicial organ of the United Nations”) has two choices: “consign itself to irrelevance” or join the fight against climate change.
A 21 page text version of Sand’s speech is found here.
Bemoaning “legislative inertia” (p. 18), he seems intent on achieving, via court fiat, what political leaders accountable to the electorate have so far declined to do. On five occasions, he talks about the immense authority with which an international court decision would be imbued. Facts are one thing, he says, but facts that “have the special authority of the law to back them” are uniquely legitimate (pages 12, 14, 15, 19).
Much like the 20 American academics who want to silence climate skeptics by threatening them with criminal investigations, this British academic wants to silence dissent via an international court ruling that says skeptics are wrong.
The text version of Sands’ speech doesn’t adequately capture what he actually said. Starting at the 39:30-minute point on the video, here’s what you’ll hear:
It is one thing for the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] to come to such conclusions as a matter of its opinion. It’s quite another for an International Court of Justice to give them the authority of a judicial determination as to what the facts are and what the scientific evidence is.
…As I noted at the outset, there is a broad emerging consensus on many of these factual matters, but they do remain subject to challenge in some quarters, including by scientifically qualified, knowledgeable and influential individuals. And the courts could play a role here in finally scotching those claims.
One of the most important things an international court could do – in my view it’s probably the single most important thing – is to settle the scientific dispute. A finding of fact on one or more of these matters…would be significant and authoritative and could well be dispositive on a range of future actions that are needed, including in the conduct of negotiations. A finding of fact by the [International Court of Justice] would be of great authority in proceedings before other international courts and tribunals, and before national courts also.
Did we catch that? Sands wants a court to settle the scientific dispute. Fully aware that qualified individuals hold contrary climate opinions, he – a non-scientist – wants a court to finally scotch those claims. As he reads the tea leaves, the verdict is predictable in advance. At this moment in its history, he believes, the International Court of Justice will deliver the sort of climate change ruling he considers “helpful.”
What chance will a science teacher with a non-mainstream view of climate change have at an employment hearing once the world’s highest court has declared her views to be non-facts? How many more young journalists will avoid thinking for themselves after a court has ruled that X is climate gospel and Y is climate heresy?
Science academies need to inform lawyers such as Philippe Sands that the courts are not – and can never be – adjudicators of scientific truth. Going down this path will bring both science and the law into disrepute.
Robin Guenier’s response
Robin Guenier’s notes and response to this have been posted at Paul Matthews blog [link]. Well worth reading (he uses my recent congressional testimony in his arguments). His conclusion:
Professor Sands believes that climate change is “one of the greatest and most vital challenges of our age” and asserts that in view of its “real and imminent challenges … the international courts shall not be silent”.
These are honourable sentiments. However, he also believes the way for the courts to make a contribution – the “single most important thing [they] could do” – would be “to settle the scientific dispute”. And to do so by “finally scotching claims” that he thinks are not based on established fact.
But, for the courts to purport to settle a legitimate scientific disagreement, would strike at the essence of the Scientific Method – the basis of scientific practice for over 150 years. It would risk bringing international law into disrepute.
Professor Sands may consider that a risk worth taking. However he might perhaps note that it’s not disputes about science that are making it so difficult to reach a global agreement to reduce GHG emissions. The problem derives from the understandable wish of the developing countries – responsible for about 70% of global GHG emissions and comprising 82% of the world’s population (including virtually all the world’s poorest people) – to develop their economies and to eradicate poverty. Following China’s example, they believe that the provision of reliable, affordable energy, derived largely from fossil fuels, is the best way of achieving these goals. And the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change specifically entitles them to give such action overriding priority.
Attempts or desires to use the courts to enforce consensus climate science has recently been seen in:
The Minnesota case is fighting back against the consensus.
This whole notion of a climate ‘consensus’, 97% and all that, has been very cleverly, and arguably dishonestly, marketed. These people are still thinking that ‘speaking scientific consensus to power’ is actually going to work in terms of radically reducing global carbon emissions. At this point the science is almost irrelevant; the big issues in play are that India, Africa, etc. want electricity for its population and for economic development, and coal is the most economical way to accomplish that.
Trying to destroy science in the process of denying that radical near term emissions reductions aren’t going to work is just plain stupid, not to mention dangerous and a few other adjectives that one can think of.