01/02/2021

Can global warming be stopped in court?

2 min
Police officers divert traffic to central Paris, with coronavirus restrictions in place

This week climate activists have their eyes on a Paris court that has to decide whether to force Emmanuel Macron to make drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. In 2018, several French NGOs - including Greenpeace France, Oxfam, the Nicolas Hulot Foundation and Notre Affair à Tous - filed a joint lawsuit against the French government because they believed its climate policies are insufficient to meet the Paris Agreement to reduce global warming

It is not the first such lawsuit that the courts have to consider. Some of these NGOs have filed a similar one against Pedro Sánchez, and there are also others filed before courts in Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Canada or South Korea

They have in their favour a 2019 ruling in the Netherlands, where the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the NGO Urgenda and imposed a 25% cut in CO2 emissions on the Dutch government on 2020. In contrast, a lawsuit on the same issue that had been brought against the US federal government in the Obama era was not so enlightening, as the court there decided, in a ruling open to be appeal, that despite the urgency of the climate crisis, it did not have the power to tell the government what to do

It will be interesting to see what happens now in Paris, because it could be a precedent for other proceedings in European courts or other countries. Just as the Dutch ruling spurred other complaints, what the Paris administrative court decides may encourage other activists to take this route to put pressure on governments

We have, however, a not very good experience in Catalonia of leaving it to the courts to decide on public policies. Therefore, although in this case there may be a consensus on the need to push and press for clearer policies to prevent global warming, it is doubtful that this can or should be done in the courts of justice. The energy policies of countries depend on many factors and in principle form part of the different ideologies of the parties that make up the majorities in government, which citizens have voted for to implement policies in different areas

It is one thing for the courts to rule on specific aspects of a dispute and another for them to become the ideological guardians of certain policies. In some countries, such as Spain itself, we have clearly seen that the ideological bias of judges sometimes outweighs what the ballot boxes decide or even the decisions of health specialists, whom they have no problem in ignoring, even endangering the health of citizens. That is why, although it may seem good news that the courts are forcing governments to apply stricter environmental policies, we must stay vigilant if we continue to let the judges establish policy.

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