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  • Can governments be forced to take the tough steps

  • needed to save the environment?

  • This episode will show you how

  • even lawmakers aren't bigger than the law.

  • What happens when a country breaks an agreement over the environment?

  • Can the law help?

  • And the important case that could change the way

  • governments behave around the world...

  • But first, international laws

  • are based on agreements between countries,

  • but what happens when an influential country doesn't agree?

  • The Amazon rainforest, in Brazil:

  • the millions of trees maintain the atmosphere

  • for all of us, all around the world.

  • But Jair Bolsonaro, elected president of Brazil in 2018,

  • had a different view.

  • His government has put the needs of the economy ahead.

  • While he's been in power, much more of the forest has been cut down.

  • So, what can the international community do?

  • A similar story in North America:

  • 2017 and Donald Trump announces

  • the US was leaving the Paris Agreement,

  • an agreement by 191 countries to cut their emissions.

  • America rejoined the agreement after Joe Biden became president.

  • However, when countries break agreements like this,

  • what can international law do?

  • What power does something like the Paris Agreement

  • have to protect our world?

  • What happens if a country breaks it?

  • Lydia Omuko-Jung, from the Climate Change Litigation Initiative

  • and the University of Graz, explained:

  • So, the Paris Agreement takes a soft law approach

  • to its compliance mechanism, so countries will not be punished,

  • or they will not be some sanctions for not being able to comply

  • with the binding obligations of the Paris Agreement.

  • So, what happens is that where parties cannot comply,

  • or where parties have not complied, then it's more of a discussion

  • a dialogue: in the compliance committee, it's a dialogue

  • where they discuss why have... hasn't the country been able to comply

  • and how can they comply, and then recommendations are made

  • based on these discussions.

  • The Paris Agreement follows a soft law approach.

  • Countries aren't punished for breaking it;

  • instead, discussions happen about how to fix the problem.

  • So, could international law stop something

  • like the Brazilian rainforests being cut down?

  • Brazil has a right to explore their resources,

  • the national resources within their country.

  • It only becomes problematic when these activities

  • within their territory damage the environment of other states.

  • But then, in terms... in terms of cutting down forests,

  • we find that it's quite difficult to identify

  • what you'd call transboundary environmental effects...

  • yeah, some environmental effects in another country

  • because of Brazil's exploitation of its own forests.

  • So, that really is quite a challenge

  • for the international community to come in.

  • Brazil can do what it wants to its own forests.

  • You would need to prove an environmental impact in another country,

  • called a transboundary effect, to stop thiswhy?

  • Other states can only come in if there are some legally binding obligations

  • that is created by some treaty which mandates,

  • for instance, states to protect forests.

  • As you're speaking at the moment, we do not have, like,

  • a global legally binding instrument

  • that creates this state obligation to protect forests,

  • which makes it difficult for the international community to get in.

  • Countries can't interfere because we don't have laws

  • that create internationally protected places.

  • She explained why she thought the Paris Agreement

  • wasn't good enough to protect Brazil's forests.

  • If you look at the Paris Agreement,

  • it recognises the importance of forests

  • in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions,

  • but it just provides that parties should take action

  • to conserve and enhance forests.

  • So, what we see from this kind of drafting,

  • or from this kind of provision, is that it doesn't create

  • a direct responsibility on states,

  • or even a binding actual obligation,

  • because it uses word 'should': 'parties should take action'

  • rather than 'parties shall take action'

  • to conserve and enhance the environment.

  • The Paris Agreement only says

  • countries 'should' take action to protect forests,

  • not 'shall', which means they don't have to do anything.

  • So, international laws can't force countries to protect the climate,

  • but could all that be changing?

  • One important case might give the Paris Agreement real strength...

  • Politicians talk a lot about their plans to save the environment.

  • What if the law made them do something?

  • In 2015, around 900 people

  • took the Dutch government to court to do just that.

  • The court ruled that the state had a responsibility

  • to act to deal with climate change.

  • The Dutch government cut its coal-fired power stations by 75%

  • and spent €3 billion on other steps to cut emissions.

  • Dennis van Berkel, one of the Urgenda Foundation's lawyers,

  • said, 'The ruling will encourage others to appeal to human rights,

  • when it comes to climate change threats.'

  • So, could you use this case in your own country?

  • And how did the law make the Dutch government change its behaviour?

  • Let's hear from Dennis van Berkel

  • about the laws used in the Urgenda case.

  • We used three types of law in our case.

  • The first bit of law was tort law,

  • which tells us what is unlawful behaviour

  • and which is the law to hold state or private entity liable.

  • But, to inform what is lawful and unlawful behaviour

  • on the side of the state, we also looked at human rights law,

  • particularly the European Convention on Human Rights.

  • And we also looked at international law: for instance, the Paris Agreement,

  • which tells us that countries need to hold their emissions to well below

  • and to aim to hold temperature increase to below one and a half degrees.

  • The lawyers working on this case used a variety of laws:

  • tort, human rights and international.

  • So, what did the court ruling actually say?

  • First of all, the... the judgement said that climate change

  • is an incredibly big threat and is actually threatening

  • our right to life and our right to private life,

  • and that the state therefore has a duty

  • to protect us against climate change.

  • But moreover, the judgement said that

  • every country has its own responsibility

  • to do its share in solving the problem:

  • it needs to do its fair share.

  • And then the... the judgement looked at what precisely is this fair share.

  • The ruling said that climate change is a big threat

  • and every country is responsible for protecting its people.

  • But can a ruling in the Netherlands have an international impact?

  • So, there have been about 100 cases around the world by now,

  • in which governments have been targeted

  • for not taking enough measures against climate change,

  • for instance... for giving permission to open new airfields

  • or to open new coal-fire power plants,

  • but also there's been a wave of litigation against corporations,

  • and very recently there was actually a court in the Netherlands

  • that even concluded that a multinational oil company,

  • such as Shell, has a legal duty to also reduce its emissions:

  • not only its own emissions, but even the emissions of its consumers.

  • Many cases around the world have followed this one,

  • targeting governments and corporations to fight climate change.

  • Dennis said this was a really important case.

  • We can go to the streets, but we can also go to the courts

  • and demand answerswhy this problem

  • has not been dealt with sufficiently.

  • And that's one of the big things that these cases show.

  • And as long as countries do not step up,

  • we will see more and more people going to courts

  • demanding that both their governments

  • and the corporations justify themselves

  • with regards to what they're doing about climate change.

  • If governments don't take action to deal with climate change,

  • people can use the power of the law to force positive change.

  • We've seen how current laws, like the Paris Agreement,

  • are hard to enforce, despite the good intentions behind them.

  • But, thanks to smart and dedicated lawyers,

  • countries may soon have to take action

  • to protect our environment for the future.

Can governments be forced to take the tough steps

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When states don't behave - BBC Learning English

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    林宜悉 posted on 2021/10/22
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