Nicholas Stern (of the Report) argues that climate agreement should not be legally binding

We used the last session of IS450 as a chance to hold a mock United Nations climate conference simulation. The participants brought forward many intriguing and instructive topics, and I applaud them for putting in the time and energy to make the simulation as successful as I, at least, judged it to be. At some point during the proceedings, there was majority agreement (finally!) on one small element of the overall framework resolution. Interestingly, though, immediately upon the successful passing of that small piece of the framework a couple of delegates put forward a motion to make the obligations legally binding. A heated discussion ensued debating the merits and disadvantages of such an approach.

In the current round of UNFCCC climate negotiations, behind held in Lima, Peru, Nicholas Stern (author of the well-known Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change) has argued against making international climate treaty obligations legally binding. What is Lord Stern’s rationale for this?

“Some may fear that commitments that are not internationally legally-binding may lack credibility,” he said.

“That, in my view, is a serious mistake. The sanctions available under the Kyoto Protocol, for example, were notionally legally-binding but were simply not credible and failed to guarantee domestic implementation of commitments.”

In Lima, negotiators are trying to hammer out the format that mitigation efforts should take. By the end of March next year countries have to declare their hands, but they have yet to formalize what will be included in these commitments and what will not.

Lord Stern believes that grounding the process in the laws and promises that countries undertake by themselves is a better model for a deal than a top-down process like Kyoto.

“It will be enforceable and deliverable through the arrangements and laws in the countries themselves.

“That way you will get stronger ambition as countries won’t be tempted to be hesitant about some type of international sanction.”

What do you think about Lord Stern argument? Would you support voluntary obligations over mandatory ones?

Here is an interview with Lord Stern from earlier this week in Lima, wherein he speaks on the link between economic growth, development, and better climate responsibility?

 

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