Legal Consequences of IPCC Report on Climate Change and Litigation

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change produced a long awaited report this week which has consolidated and integrated the scientific work of thousands of the world’s most respected scientists.  According to the report, it is 95% likely that climate change is being caused by human activities.  In the past, the reports produced on the topic have not been so emphatic about the certainty of the science behind climate change.  Heat waves will be more frequent and last longer.  Flood affected areas are likely to face more extreme downpours.  Overall, it is expected that the weather will become more extreme.  The report called for action from the world’s governments although academic commentary appears to have been pessimistic about the likelihood that any corrective action will be taken by the world’s governments.

In the United States, there have been a number of law suits from States which are part of the Union.  Perhaps the most notable was Massachusetts v Environmental Protection Agency which was about the power given to the Federal Environmental Protection Agency by the Clean Air Act to regulate green house gases through the reduction of emissions from cars.  The attorney general of California also filed a suit against general motors with the objective of obtaining a ruling that the car manufacturers would have to limit the emissions of the cars that they manufacture.  Also, some suits have been filed against energy and resources companies seeking damages for the destruction of the environment caused by the burning of the fossil fuels.

In terms of international law, the United States has signed the Kyoto Protocol but has not ratified it or withdrawn from it.  Various members of the administrations in the United States have explained that the protocol is not aligned with the policy stance of the administration.  It has also never been possible to obtain a vote from the Congress ratifying the protocol.  Although it is unsurprising that the Bush administration never submitted the protocol for a vote on ratification to congress,  neither the Clinton nor Obama Presidencies have sought the approval of the treaty from Congress.  The government published a report in which it explored the possibility of Climate Change being a national security issue for the United States as well as an environmental concern.

There have been a number attempts to introduce legislation in the House of Representatives which would provide funding for research into techniques which will assist with the reduction of fossil fuel dependency and extraction techniques for less carbon polluting fuel sources.  However, these attempts have either failed to emerge from a committee or been blocked by the Senate.  This means that the United States has not passed any legislation on the subject of climate change which attempts to address the issue.  When President Barack Obama was elected, a stated objective was to pursue policies that reduced the United States dependency on fossil fuels which would presumably entail reduction of carbon emissions.  However, it appears that it has not been within the President’s scope of influence to convince the Congress to pass legislation which will place the United States on a policy footing which will address the problem of climate change.

IPCC report summary

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