The law that could make climate change illegal – BBC Future

15 Dec 2020

The short-term cycles of government can be a real problem for climate change. But a new and ambitious climate law recently passed in Denmark tries to find a way around this problem, and some of the other common pitfalls of climate laws. It makes Denmark one of a small number of countries beginning to provide new blueprints of how government can genuinely tackle climate change. Its law could turn out to be one of the closest things yet to a law that would make climate change genuinely illegal.

It is one of the strongest laws of its kind in the world, because it avoids five big pitfalls of climate laws elsewhere.

  1. An enduring solution: How can a climate law avoid the scenario of a country setting a goal 10 or 20 year into the future but failing to actually meet it? The government will be held to account every year by the parliament. In theory, that will lead to a government having to step down.” But what happens when a new government comes in – will it be held to the same standard? Denmark has tried to minimise this risk by negotiating cross-party support of its climate law.
  2. Fair share: The law is its evidence-based approach to what share of the global emissions cuts it is responsible for. This legally binding science-based target is the backbone of its new law. Denmark’s new law also aims for “net-zero” emissions by 2050, although its “fair share” to reach this target would actually be closer to a 2040 deadline.
  3. Net zero: Global emissions will need to reach “net zero” around mid-century to stay on track for 1.5C.
  4. In it together: Denmark’s new law has a commitment to support other countries in cutting their emissions.
  5. Green lens: Denmark’s law also has a safeguard to make sure positive climate efforts in one part of its government aren’t undermined by those in another by ensuring all policies support green sustainable development.

Climate laws are becoming a tool for countries to tackle climate change. But what if governments fail to create them in the first place? In this case, courts are proving to be a powerful mechanism to force governments to take action. Denmark itself also has a movement trying to get climate change into its constitution, which has only been changed twice in the past 100 years.