In March 2015, international and environmental legal experts adopted what has commonly become known as the Oslo Principles on Global Climate Change Obligations. And even though this event didn’t get much media attention at the time, its importance should not be underestimated, both for the future of the planet and as the basis for legal action.
Several years of discussions, extensive research and in-depth hearings laid the groundwork for this gathering in Oslo.
The Oslo principles maintain that human rights include the right to life and rights to water, food and a clean environment. They also state that scientists are almost unanimous in concluding that these rights are being threatened by the emerging risk of global warming. And they appeal for action to avoid a climate change related disaster, calling it a moral and legal imperative.
The principles focus on the obligations of governments and companies to fight climate change. The goal is to make sure the rise in average global temperature never exceeds the pre-industrial temperature by more than the critical 2 degrees Celsius.
The principles cover not only the climate change obligations that fall on the shoulders of political and economic players, but also the basic resources they’ll need to meet these commitments.
While the principles are not legally binding, they have the merit of serving as the foundations of future international global warming legislation. And they could inspire legislators to adopt such laws in their own countries.
CLIMATE CHANGE OBLIGATIONS AND LEGAL ACTION
The judges at the International Court of Justice referred to these innovative principles when they ordered the Dutch government to take appropriate measures – in addition to those already taken – to fight climate change and specifically limit greenhouse gas emissions.
The Oslo principles also serve as a warning to governments and companies that the principles themselves, or any laws emanating from them, could be used against them in the future if their activities or practices harm a global environment that is already facing serious threats from record-high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Interestingly, the governor of the Bank of England recently warned business circles of the as yet incalculable liability risks that greenhouse gas emitters could face if they continue with harmful activities.
The unprecedented initiative undertaken by the group of legal experts in Oslo is further evidence that the world is starting to face up to the serious risks that climate change poses to the biosphere as well as to the existence and activities of human communities worldwide. We can only hope it acts fast enough to meet the challenge.
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