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G8 States Could Face Class Actions on Climate Change

The US and other G8 countries could face class actions on behalf of people in the developing world if they fail to take convincing steps to cut the emissions blamed for causing climate change, a Filipino environmental lawyer has warned

by Frank MacDonald

Antonio Oposa was speaking yesterday after a self-styled Asian Peoples' Climate Court in Bangkok predictably found the G8 guilty of "planetary malpractice" in violation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Greenpeace activists from the MY Esperanza paint the message 'CLIMATE CRIME' on the bow of the tanker Victory Prima. The ship is carrying crude palm oil for the Sarana Tempa Perkasa. The US and other G8 countries could face class actions on behalf of people in the developing world if they fail to take convincing steps to cut the emissions blamed for causing climate change. (Image: © Greenpeace/Novis) Organised by the Tcktcktck campaign, which has a team of young T-shirted "negotiator trackers" at the climate talks here, the two-hour mock trial heard a case "filed" on behalf of children from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines and Thailand.

One of the "witnesses", a sherpa from Nepal, told presiding judge Amara Pongsapich, chairman of Thailand's human rights commission, that ice in the Himalayas was melting at a much faster rate than 30 years ago, causing flash floods and severe drought. Afterwards, Mr Oposa said it was "only a matter of time" until properly constituted international tribunals began hearing class actions seeking reparation from "over-consuming countries" for damage caused by climate change in developing nations.

"A group of lawyers are actually thinking of it already," he said, referring to a network called Global Legal Action on Climate Change.

"The countries most affected in Asia and Africa will begin to stand up and take action if they get nothing from Copenhagen."

Frustration among the G77 group of developing countries over what they see as a search for loopholes by rich nations to evade their responsibilities led to a walk- out by delegates from one of the sessions preparing for December's climate conference in the Danish capital.

Yesterday, the G77 - which actually consists of 130 UN member states, plus China - resorted to a familiar tactic by threatening to block further talks unless more substantive progress was made in drafting a realistic negotiating text for ministers to finalise in Copenhagen.

More frustration was evident among the International Youth delegation at the Bangkok talks; they told a press briefing that they had "no confidence in the road to Copenhagen" because the current text was "so weak and full of ‘false solutions' that it's unacceptable".

They cited the failure to secure strong targets on cutting emissions from developed countries, a growing concern that the Kyoto Protocol would be allowed to expire in 2012 and lack of guarantees for protection of indigenous peoples' rights and interests.

Joshua Kahn Russell, a US delegate from the Rainforest Action Network, said: "We cannot allow rich countries to use US inaction as an excuse to kill the Kyoto Protocol. Our future cannot be held hostage to the politics and interests of the United States or any other country."

Anna Collins, representing the Youth Climate Coalition in Britain, said young people had been "looking to the rich developed countries like those in the EU to take a leading role to secure an ambitious climate change deal in Copenhagen, but they are failing us."

Kim Carstensen, of the World Wildlife Fund, said delegates in Bangkok were "still in the mode of talking in circles - on finance, adaptation and mitigation. What's needed is a strong political will to consolidate the [negotiating] texts for a decisive outcome in Copenhagen."

Kaisa Kosonen, Greenpeace International's climate policy expert, said it was "no wonder developing countries are getting very impatient" when there was as yet "no real targets on the table and no real finance" to help poorer countries adapt to climate change.

At the Climate Action Network's daily briefing, she said developed countries had "avoided discussing their targets" to reduce emissions for the past four years and still had not agreed on how these should be measured or even whether 1990 should be the base year.

Referring to moves by the US and others to replace the Kyoto Protocol with a less binding agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Ms Kosonen said the world "doesn't have time to start from scratch" and needed to keep the "architecture" so laboriously built around Kyoto.

She said 1990 "must be the base year" against which to measure cuts in emissions - as it is under the protocol - and there must also be five-year commitment periods, with the emphasis on domestic action rather than seeking offsets by buying carbon credits abroad.

A report published yesterday by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency said current proposals by the developed countries to reduce emissions by 10-15 per cent by 2020 "do not yet suffice" to limit global warming to a rise of 2 degrees Celsius in average temperatures.

"Developed countries as a group would need to increase their reduction targets for 2020 by at least 6 to 10 per cent, in order to keep the 2 degrees objective [agreed both by the EU and G8] within reach", it said, adding that global cost would be only 0.2 per cent of GDP in 2020.

 

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