In law, words are critical

Imagine the law said, “You must try really hard to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions”.

Imagine someone tried to sue you and they argued that you didn’t try really hard. You might argue that you did. And you might have. And you might not have.

So, if the words are not specific, they cannot be legally enforced. Nobody can be held accountable because it’s not clear what they are actually accountable for.

This problem is common in international climate change agreements.

In the Copenhagen Accord, for example, countries agreed to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere so that the increase in global temperature is no more than 2 degrees Celsius. If the temperature increase goes beyond 2 degrees, who is held accountable?  How?

For international climate change agreements to work:

  1. Commitments must be in specific, legally-enforceable terms;
  2. Specific countries must have specific, legally-enforceable obligations; and
  3. There must be enforcement mechanisms, so that countries that are meeting their legal obligations can take legal action against countries that are failing to meet theirs.

What is the purpose of this website?

The purpose of this website, then, is to deconstruct the language that is being negotiated for the Conference of Parties in Paris in November/December 2015. We want to highlight where countries are trying to insert “weasel words” which allow them to avoid playing their role in preventing dangerous climate change.

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Will the climate change agreement negotiated in Paris actually work? We are a group of legal commentators analysing the draft text to show where work is needed. Read more about us here.

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