Should Ignoring Climate Change Be Illegal? Denmark Law Opens the Possibility

Steph Q.
10.07.20 04:53 PM Comment(s)

In January 2019, a petition calling for Paris Agreement adherence climate law was drafted and launched by a coalition of Danish NGOs. Within a week, around one percent of the population (more than 50, 000 people) had signed the document.

The petition did not gain parliamentary support at the time. However, it created enough awareness that Climate Change became a top campaign issue in the June 2019 Denmark election.

A coalition of left leaning parties led by the Social Democrats began working on an unprecedented new law as soon as they took office. It is one of the strongest climate laws in the world and came into force in June 2020.

The government is now legally obliged to implement emissions cutting measures rather than simply setting a target. Policies that ensure future targets can be met are now part of a legally binding process.

“The government will be held to account every year by the parliament,” says Dan Jørgensen, Denmark’s climate and energy minister. “If you’re not on track, the parliament can say, ‘Well, sorry, you’re not on track so you don’t get a majority.’ In theory, that will lead to a government having to step down.”

There is risk that a drastic change to Parliament could lead to a failure of this system. Birgitte Qvist-Sørensen, general secretary of DanChurchAid (one of the groups behind the petition) believes the Danish governmental system and the myriad parties that make up Denmark’s Parliament make this a non-issue.

This cross-party support also helps to provide the market certainty needed for companies to invest in low-carbon technologies. “If the markets are to react they need to be sure it’s not just a good idea that’s in fashion right now,” said Jørgensen. “They need to be sure it will last.”

Governments with credible climate plans must make a genuine attempt to calculate their fair share to keep in line with the Paris Agreement. Denmark has implemented a legally binding target of a 70% emissions reduction by 2030, based on 1990 levels. The science based target is the foundation of the new law.

Denmark’s new law also has provisions for supporting other countries in cutting their emissions. It requires climate change to be integrated into foreign development aid and trade policy, and climate impacts of Danish imports and consumption need to be considered as well. These details are current being negotiated in Parliament.

Public consultation is included in the Statue, including a “public climate council” and thirteen sector-led “climate partnerships”, were tasked with coming up with solutions to reduce emissions in their industry. The sectors, ranging from agriculture to aviation, recently gave their recommendations to the government.

The number of climate related litigation cases has drastically increased. Climate youth lawsuits have been launched in countries across the world for violations of their constitutional rights – and several have won.

It will be interesting to see how this Danish legislation influences future politics across the world.