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The Oslo Principles on Global Climate Change Obligations were presented and discussed in pre-Colloquium proceedings of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta. On behalf of the Expert Group on Global Climate Obligations, Prof. Jaap Spier, rapporteur, set out the key findings. 

The Oslo Principles were originally announced in March of this year. They both define the scope of states’ legal obligations to protect the environment and outline a means of meeting these obligations. They put emphasis on prevention (that is, the reduction of Green House Gas emissions).

The complete text of the Oslo Principles and the detailed commentary identifying their underlying sources of law can be found at www.yale.edu/macmillan/globaljustice/news.html or www.osloprinciples.org. They are published by Eleven Publishing: http://www.elevenpub.com/law/catalogus/oslo-principles-on-global-climate-obligations-1

Background

Current international debate about climate response often turns on whether states are legally required to address the threat of climate change. The Expert Group on Global Climate Obligations found that states are bound by existing international law to assess the environmental impact of their activities and to take measures to prevent the destructive effects of climate change. “So long as there are no international agreements imposing clear requirements or strong, explicitly applicable national laws, judges may find it difficult to discern the legal obligations of states,” said Hon. Michael Kirby, retired Justice, High Court of Australia, a member of the Expert Group. “The Oslo Principles offer judges clear and well-supported legal criteria for making such decisions."

International law already recognizes state responsibility for trans-boundary effects that activities in a state have on other states. The Oslo Principles are essentially applying this framework to climate change by drawing on obligations from environmental law, human rights law and tort law.

The Principles center on states’ obligation to reduce per capita greenhouse gas emissions to the extent they are above a defined permissible level. Thus, the wealthy countries carry the primary reduction burden. The Principles require all states to realise any reductions that can be achieved at no cost. Furthermore, they articulate developed countries’ duty to provide least developed countries with the financial and technical means they need to reduce their emissions when the necessary measures would incur costs.

Communities in the most vulnerable areas will tend to suffer the effects of climate change acutely. States should put vulnerable communities at the heart of climate change policy.

The Expert Group

Comprised of experts in international, environmental, tort, and human rights law, the group met over a period of several years to formulate the Oslo Principles in response to the threat climate change poses to humankind, other life, and global security and well-being.

The members of the expert group who participated in their individual capacities are: Justice Antonio Benjamin (National High Court of Brazil); Prof. Michael Gerrard (Columbia Law School); Toon Huydecoper (retired Advocate-General, Supreme Court of the Netherlands); The Hon. Michael Kirby (retired Justice, High Court of Australia); M C Mehta (public interest attorney before the Supreme Court of India); Prof. Thomas Pogge (Yale University, King’s College London and University of Oslo); Prof. Tianbao Qin (Wuhan Law School); Prof. Dinah Shelton (George Washington Law School; former President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights); Prof. James Silk (Yale Law School); Jessica Simor QC (barrister, Matrix Chamber, London); Prof. Jaap Spier (Advocate-General, Supreme Court of the Netherlands; University Maastricht); Judge Elisabeth Steiner, European Court of Human Rights; Prof. Philip Sutherland (Stellenbosch University Faculty of Law)

The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law

The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law, a global network of environmental law faculties and research centres with some 200 institutional members in approximately sixty countries, promotes academic exchange, research, and teaching in the varied fields of environmental law.  It is the Vision of the Academy “to build sustained capacity in legal education and advance conceptual understanding and implementation of environmental law, particularly in developing countries.”

For further information about the Academy and its activities see http://www.iucnael.org/en/  or, contact Professor Jamie Benidickson or Professor Yves Le Bouthillier, Executive Directors, IUCN Academy of Environmental Law, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.