Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Are Lawyers The Best Way To Save The Earth?

(cross posted at kickin it with cg)

Back in August Stephen Hockman QC proposed an interesting idea. Namely proposing that a body similar to the International Court of Justice in The Hague be the supreme legal authority on issues regarding the environment. Hockman argues that for the lack of solutions at hand for addressing climate change, “only an impartial adjudicating body is capable of providing the catalyst for a global consensus as to the fairest way to distribute the burdens that accompany solutions to the climate change problem.”

The understandable reluctance of developing countries to sign up to carbon commitments – unless the developed world is prepared to make an equitable contribution – calls for more radical options. Those options must be realised at state, regional and international levels, and they will require political, economic and legal solutions.

In this mix, international legal instruments are crucial. The existing tools lack the necessary jurisdiction, clout and transparency. The time is ripe for a serious consideration of an international court for the environment. Such a court was mooted in Washington in 1999, but sank without trace. Today, however, we cannot afford to drop the ball.

Hockman, who is also a trustee of Client Earth, a nonprofit environmental law group, argued that such an institution would also offer a centralized system, “an enhanced body of law regarding environmental issues, and consistency in the resolution of environmental disputes“. He wrote that such a court should be compulsory and have its own scientific body to assess technical issues.

However some are skeptical as to whether this concept would work, as Environmental Capital notes:

But what about the two giants in that global economy? The U.S. and China together account for about half the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions. Any meaningful climate-change pact begins and ends with what Washington and Beijing decide. And while both presidential candidates are less hostile to the ICC, ceding control to supra-national jurisdictions generally gives the U.S. pause. Chinese leaders, meanwhile, have not traditionally embraced global law or institutions with open arms.

Concluded Environmental Capital: “Are lawyers really the best way to save the earth?”


  1. rfahey22

    I don’t have a problem with it, in theory, but such a proposal would be vulnerable to the usual demagoguery about ceding control over national interests to an international body – the U.N. “New World Order”/black helicopter people would be up in arms, and it may piss off big businesses located in the U.S.  Depending on how such a scheme was implemented it may also run into constitutional problems (the Constitution presupposes that U.S. courts have the power to review federal law; it’s not clear that an international body could wield unreviewable authority to interpret federal law), though those may be avoidable.

    It might be worth a try.

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