Tue | Dec 12, 2017

Editorial | If climate denial were a criminal offence

Published:Friday | October 27, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Professor Anthony Chen's novel suggestion that Jamaica seek economic restitution from global polluters at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is, on the face of it, impractical. For even if the question of jurisdiction was resolved, against whom precisely would the case be brought, and how would their liability be apportioned?

Yet, this newspaper appreciates Professor Chen's sentiment. For as he noted at this week's climate change forum hosted by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, the phenomenon of global warming, and its danger to the world, has been known since the 1990s. "But the countries responsible have not taken any significant steps to reduce greenhouse gases," he said.

More important, however, than looking back and seeking recompense for past actions is to question how leaders and states can be held accountable for their current behaviour, given the insistence of some on being Luddites to science despite the immutable evidence that global warming is primarily man-made. The most egregious misbehaviour in this regard is on the part of America's president, Donald Trump, and the head of the Environment Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt. Mr Trump has put in train efforts to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement. Mr Pruitt is his primary agent on this agenda.

Over the past one and a half centuries, the world has grown hotter by nearly a full degree centigrade. Rising temperatures are largely traced to the release of greenhouse gases related to an increased use of fossil fuels.

The effect of a warmer world has been on display this Atlantic hurricane season. Larger, more violent, quickly developing storms have caused much damage in the Caribbean and, ironically, the United States. Additionally, global warming is leading to a melting of the Arctic ice cap, causing oceans to rise, which threatens coastal and small island states such as Jamaica.

 

WORLD'S LARGEST POLLUTER

 

The Paris agreement, which Mr Trump is exiting, aims to keep the rise on the world's temperature to under 28C and the emission of greenhouse gases over the last half of this century to roughly equivalent of the amount that the world's trees, soils, and oceans can absorb. Under this plan, the US, per capita the world's largest polluter, would cut its emissions by between 26 and 28 per cent by 2025.

What Messrs Trump and Pruitt see in this initiative is an assault on America's capacity to aggressively expand its industrial output, perpetrated by its global competitors. They have been reversing regulations against greenhouse emissions. We see it as an assault on the future of mankind - an existential threat.

In other circumstances, pursuing policies that knowingly imperil the Paris Accord and the existence of states like Jamaica might be argued as tantamount to a crime against humanity and should be triable at the International Criminal Court, presuming that the offending leader and his state adhere to the jurisdiction of the court. Jamaica and other vulnerable states can harbour no expectation that the threat of criminal sanction will be a deterrent to wilful acts of global environmental violence that heats the planet. They can, however, work in coalitions against the climate vulgarians, while doing as much as possible at home to contribute to the mitigation of the crisis.