Climate Justice enforcing climate change law

Welcome to the website of the Climate Justice Programme, a collaboration of lawyers and campaigners around the world encouraging, supporting, and tracking enforcement of the law to combat climate change.

On this site you can find information and documents on many of the legal initiatives that have been brought under various legal theories in national and international forums.

Climate change impacts are already affecting people and the planet. And the science shows it will get far, far worse. The biggest impacts will be on the lives and livelihoods of the poor and developing countries, especially small island states. The biggest culprits are the rich and the developed countries.

Progress has been made: we have international agreements; more resources for scientific research, leading to stronger evidence; some policy advances; a change in industry rhetoric; and a certain increase in public awareness. But all this falls far short of what is needed. At the heart of the problem is the production and use of fossil fuel – particularly the emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil and gas. Developed countries have now accepted legally-binding emissions targets in the Kyoto Protocol, but these are widely recognised to be seriously inadequate, and the US has opted out.

As Klaus Töpfer says, there are laws in place now that can address this. And over the last few years, many kinds of legal action have been taken around the world to enforce the law to combat climate change. A range of national and international legal theories have been invoked by dozens of different organisations, communities and individuals, such as human rights law, constitutional law, emission control regulation, endangered species protection, freedom of information and international legal obligations. Judgments and administrative decisions have begun to come through.

The Climate Justice Programme seeks to encourage enforcement of the law to combat climate change and on this website we aim to provide information and materials on the legal actions we are aware of, and on other aspects of climate change law.

Please contact us if you have any information about climate change cases you think we should know about.

The field of law has, in many ways, been the poor relation in the world-wide effort to deliver a cleaner, healthier and ultimately fairer world. We have over 500 international and regional agreements, treaties and deals covering everything from the protection of the ozone layer to the conservation of the oceans and seas. Almost all, if not all, countries have national environmental laws too. But unless these are complied with, unless they are enforced, then they are little more than symbols, tokens, paper tigers. This is an issue affecting billions of people who are effectively being denied their rights and one of not only national but regional and global concern. We are increasingly aware that what happens in one part of the world can affect (sic) in another part of the globe – be it toxic pollutants from Asia, Europe and North America contaminating the Arctic or the greenhouse gases of the industrialised regions triggering droughts or the melting of glaciers in the less industrialised ones.

Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, on the adoption of the Judges’ Johannesburg Principles on the Role of Law and Sustainable Development, August 2002