May 11, 2017, by Alex Kirby
This parched earth … more countries have legally reinforced their commitment to tackling climate change. Image: Biodiversity International via Flickr
More than 1,200 climate laws have been introduced since 1997, with a sharp rise in the number of countries legislating since the 2015 Paris Agreement.
LONDON, 11 May, 2017 – A growing number of countries are passing laws aimed at ensuring they will keep their promises to cut emissions of greenhouse gases, new research shows. But some still need to do more to give their pledges practical effect under national laws.
An analysis by researchers and staff of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the UNFCCC, shows a clear rise in the number of countries introducing legislation to support the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) they have undertaken to make under the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
The NDCs detail the emissions cuts each country intends to make to help to reach the goal of keeping global temperature rise below 2°C.
New climate laws
Analysis by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science shows that 14 new laws and 33 new executive policies related to climate change have been introduced since the Paris summit in December 2015. Of the new laws and policies, 18 mainly focus on climate change, while four specifically relate to NDCs.
The analysis relies on a new online database of global climate change legislation developed by Grantham and the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, US.
The new laws add to more than 1,200 climate-related laws enacted globally since 1997, now involving 164 countries and including 93 of the top 100 emitters – up from 99 countries in 2015.
Patricia Espinosa, the UNFCCC’s executive secretary, says: “We are witnessing serious and significant support for the Paris Agreement from across countries and continents, and from cities and businesses to civil society.”
“Today we present further evidence from the world of policymaking that shows how countries are starting to add to and to tailor existing legislative frameworks to respond to the aims and ambitions of the new Agreement.”
“Most countries now have the legal basis
on which further action can build”
A 2016 analysis showed that seven of the G20 members, including the EU as a whole, France, Germany, the UK, Japan, Mexico and South Africa, had emission reduction targets in domestic legislation or policy that were entirely consistent with their Paris pledges.
But that study also pointed out that in the 13 other G20 countries there was a gap between the signatories’ pledges to the Paris Agreement and the legal frameworks they had in place to make those cuts.
So they will need to adjust their existing laws and policies to make the level and timeframe of their targets consistent with the NDCs, or to make more significant changes to translate their pledged emissions cuts into domestic frameworks: for example, by upgrading targets from individual sectors to economy-wide.
The new analysis details progress made by Canada, Argentina and China, which has announced a new five-year plan that sets emission peak targets and energy efficiency targets. It notes: “It is not yet clear how new developments in the US might affect its NDC.”
Professor Samuel Fankhauser, Grantham’s co-director, says the new climate legislation and policies marked a twentyfold increase over two decades ago, when there were just 60 such laws in place. “This reflects the large amount of ground that existing climate laws already cover,” he says. “Most countries now have the legal basis on which further action can build.”
Least developed countries
Since the Paris Agreement came into force many least developed countries (LDCs) have also taken their first steps to consolidate their approach to climate change. For example, Malawi has passed its National Climate Change Management Policy, which makes explicit connection to its NDC and to the Paris Agreement.
But gaps remain. The analysis shows that only 42% (20 LDCs) have factored climate change into their development plans, and that as a group LDCs have fewer laws and policies compared with the global average (5.5 per country compared with 7.7).
Martin Chungong, secretary general of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, says: “The database of global climate legislation is a very valuable resource for parliamentarians. It enables them to know what types of laws exist in the world and to look for ways to translate them into the realities of their countries.
“In other words, this tool facilitates the law-making process, which is a first critical element for ensuring that the Paris Agreement translates into national legislation.” – Climate News Network
Alex Kirby is a former BBC journalist and environment correspondent. He now works with universities, charities and international agencies to improve their media skills, and with journalists in the developing world keen to specialise in environmental reporting.