What’s In a Pledge? COP Declaration Is More Goodwill Than Law
(Bloomberg) -- Negotiators in Glasgow are haggling through the night over the wording of key texts on tackling climate change far into the future. Whether countries will stick to their promises is another question altogether.
COP26, which has moved into its crucial final days, will produce three main documents that will be binding politically. The legal power of these decisions is weaker than commitments taken under international treaties, such as the historic Paris Agreement, which require ratification by nations. That makes it nigh on impossible to hold governments to account for any future failures.
“If you read the content, it’s more affirmations and recognitions than hard commitments,” Matthew Townsend, a lawyer at Allen & Overy, who specializes in environmental law said of a draft copy of the communique released this week.
“Importantly, the CMA communique is really about furthering the objectives of the Paris Agreement and recognizing wider commitments made in Glasgow so see it is a follow on step to Paris,” he said.
In the aftermath of Paris, some nations passed domestic legislation implementing carbon reduction commitments. The process though can be achingly slow and easy to avoid altogether. Crucially, there are limited global enforcement powers to sanction countries that don’t meet their emission reduction targets.
Back in Glasgow, several declarations have also been signed -- from pledges to end deforestation by the end of the decade to commitments to scale up clean energy and eliminate coal. But no country is legally bound by them.
“These declarations are what they say on the tin — they’re declarations of intention,” Townsend said. “I would not treat them lightly but they’re not legally enforceable.”
The strongest legal protection would be if countries passed their own legislation, Rowan Smith, a lawyer at Leigh Day, said in an interview. Governments could also make it policy to adhere to the goals in decisions it makes about climate change or courts could develop the law in a way that is compatible with those commitments, he said.
“The proof will be in the pudding — all eyes will be on each country’s willingness to implement these declarations from Glasgow into their own laws,” Townsend said. “No doubt we will take stock in two to three years time to see exactly what progress has been made. Declarations are the first step in the process.”
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