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Law-making & Climate Change

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The historic and perhaps primary role of a parliament is to pass the laws of a nation (or in a federal state, the laws of a province or state). Next to the constitution, the laws passed by a parliament are the most important statement of the rules and principles governing a country.  These rules and principles will also direct its future development; as such, they are essential for framing and tackling climate change. 

Law-making on climate change is a complex and difficult task, but one that is carried out with increasing frequency and fortitude by parliaments around the globe.  The 2013 GLOBE Climate Legislation Study  identified close to 500 new laws enacted since October 2012 by the 66 countries under review.  The report signals a notable shift in climate change legislation from industrialized countries to developing countries and emerging markets, and identifies significant positive change in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America in particular.

The GLOBE Climate Legislation Study

The GLOBE Climate Legislation Study seeks to provide an authoritative and comprehensive annual audit of climate change-related laws in the 66 country chapters. 

The aims of the GLOBE Climate Legislation Studies are threefold. First, to support legislators advancing climate-related legislation by providing a detailed summary of existing legislation to identify best practice and help peer-to-peer learning. Second, to document the broad progress on climate change legislation at the domestic level in both industrialised and developing countries to provide positive momentum to the international negotiations. And third, to highlight the fundamental role of legislators in any effective strategy to tackle climate change.

The GLOBE study also illustrates that ‘climate change legislation’ is quite a large umbrella term.  The most prominent ‘climate laws’ pertain to climate change mitigation, such as those requiring carbon emission cuts and those setting renewable energy and energy efficiency targets.  Since climate change is inexorably linked to many other issues, including agriculture, fishery and food production, energy, health, disaster risk management and water security, legislating on climate change goes far beyond emission and energy targets.  It involves mainstreaming climate change into all aspects of development and national planning, and in doing so touches upon many policy fields.  This requires both a capacity and willingness on the part of law-makers to legislate for the medium to long term.

Parliamentary action: law-making for climate change

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the climate question.  Sound climate legislation and policies require much research and preparation, and priorities and opportunities take very different forms in different parts of the world.  Even states or regions with comparable climate threats, such as the low-lying Small Island States, may require distinct approaches to climate change.  The pre-existing legal framework, relevant development indicators, population density and so on are all important factors in shaping law-making requirements and opportunities, and can vary strongly even among neighbouring states. 

Budgets, too, will place considerable limits on legislators’ scope of action.  Even the most innovative legislation will be futile if the required funding is not available.  In a similar vein, legislators must be aware of potential implementation issues: if the relevant ministries, departments or local level actors do not have the capacity to deliver, the proposed actions should be reviewed or capacity-building efforts should be undertaken. 

The points below offer some suggestions as to the different shapes climate change laws may take, and the actions parliamentarians can take to develop these. 

1. Flagship legislation

The GLOBE study defines flagship legislation as a piece of legislation or regulation with equivalent status that serves as a comprehensive, unifying basis for climate change policy. As this wording suggests, flagship legislation is important in outlining the basic tenets of a country’s climate policy and in setting clear, longer-term national targets for climate change mitigation and adaptation.  It is also crucial for signaling to potential donors and investors that a country is committed to achieving certain goals and objectives. 

Nigeria: Flagship Legislation

Nigeria’s National Policy on Climate Change is a strategic policy response to climate change with the objectives of fostering low-carbon, high growth economic development path and building a climate-resilient society through the attainment of set targets. The current plan explicitly identifies climate change as one of the major threats to Nigeria’s economic development goals and food security. To meet these challenges, the plan includes concrete targets in the areas of climate change adaptation, afforestation, and energy supply.

The vision of the National Climate Change Policy Response and Strategy (NCCPRS) is a climate change resilient Nigeria ready for rapid and sustainable socio-economic development. Its mission is to strengthen national initiatives to adapt to and mitigate climate change and involve all sectors of the Nigerian society, including the poor and other vulnerable groups (women, youth etc.) within the overall context of advancing sustainable socio-economic development in Nigeria. 

The National Policy on Climate Change defines a number of concrete policy targets in the area of climate change adaptation and mitigation with respect to energy, agriculture, water, coastal areas, forestry and land use, and transportation.  For more details, please click here.

Flagship legislation is an important step towards mainstreaming climate change across other – and eventually all – policy sectors.  Setting strong targets at the national levels provides the necessary leverage for setting specific sector targets, and facilitates the development of new regulations at the national, sub-national and local level.

European Commission: Road transport: Reducing CO2 emissions from vehicles

Road transport contributes about one-fifth of the EU's total emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas.  Transport is the only major sector in the EU where greenhouse gas emissions are still rising, and light-duty vehicles - cars and vans - are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, producing around 15% of the EU's emissions of CO2.

Following up on a European Commission strategy adopted in 2007, the EU has put in place a comprehensive legal framework to reduce CO2 emissions from new light duty vehicles as part of efforts to ensure it meets its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol and beyond. 

The legislation sets binding emission targets for new car and van fleets. As the automotive industry works towards meeting these targets, average emissions are falling each year.  For more information, please click here.  

2. Parliamentary action: legislative drafting and review

The absence of flagship legislation makes legislating on climate change more challenging, but even in such cases there remains much room for action.  As a first point, parliamentarians can render new legislative proposals more ‘climate resilient’ by requesting relevant impact and assessment studies.  Such studies can be instrumental in ensuring that climate change, at the very least, is considered as an important variable in the development of new policies and legislation.  Where plans are being made to start mining in unexplored areas, for example, assessment studies should be carried out to examine the impact on land use and management, forestry, water quality and, naturally, the resulting increase in carbon emissions. 

Drawing on their role as representatives, parliamentarians can contribute to legislative drafting and review processes by proactively engaging experts and important stakeholders.  Every parliament stands to benefit from constructive relationships with relevant experts who can come in and improve the policy and regulatory framework on climate change and related issues.  Experts may include climate change scientists, engineers, development practitioners, legal experts, civil society members and so on. 

Where the regulatory framework is concerned, it can be helpful to get government officials, legislators and private stakeholders around the table to see how regulations might be strengthened.  Capacity-building for government officials and legislators is also worth investing in, and parliaments should consider engaging specialist focal points to monitor the technical aspects.  Most importantly, law-making should not be done in a vacuum; improved communication and consultation with relevant stakeholders can make critical differences to the quality of the legislation and regulations produced.   Parliamentarians are uniquely positioned to push for more inclusive law-making processes and should use their powers and privileges to do so. 

Parliamentarians can further take legislative action on climate change by reviewing existing laws and proposing amendments where possible.  Where these opportunities present themselves, there is no need to start from the ground up and the legislative ‘effort’ can remain relatively limited.  This is important because parliamentarians rarely have the necessary legal support staff to develop large-scale bills or proposals.  Virtually all flagship legislation and substantial climate laws are initiated by the executive, with varying levels of input and review by the parliament.  Amending existing legislation is a much more feasible undertaking, with a comparatively high success rate. 

Critics will be quick to say that climate change needs more than incremental changes, but the value of ‘small’ steps should not be underestimated.  Amendments offer parliamentarians the chance to familiarize themselves with the issue, to obtain a ‘quick win’ and – very importantly – to build political awareness and support among their peers.  As the example above shows, amendments also need not necessarily be small in scope or impact; considerable advances can be made this way. Legislators should be careful, however, not to create too much ‘patchwork’ legislation.  Amendments can be very constructive policy tools, but the framework as a whole must be sound and must eventually be geared towards climate-conscious and climate-friendly development.  While amendments have their value, they should not be employed as full-fledged substitutes for more inclusive, comprehensive climate legislation. 

Finally, ‘undoing’ legislative barriers can be just as constructive as developing new proposals, and in many cases is just as critical. Private investors commonly cite large amounts of unnecessary red tape as a key barrier to investing in renewable energy projects.  Outdated regulations on land use or land management may complicate adaptation projects, and may hinder long-term planning.  Fossil fuel subsidies, all too common still, continue to undermine carbon cuts and absorb a large amount of funds that could be redirected to support energy efficiency and green energy initiatives.

VIDEO: Parliamentary Action on Renewable Energy - how to end fossil fuel subsidies

This video, produced by UNDP and the Climate Parliament in the framework of their joint Parliamentary Action on Renewable Energy (PARE)  project, illustrates how fossil fuel subsidies continue to skew the energy market and undermine much-needed investment in renewable energy sources.  

To watch the video, please click here.

Mainstreaming climate change

The strong linkages between climate change and other policy issues (energy, agriculture, water, land management and so on) have been illustrated above.  While these linkages may complicate legislative action on climate change, they also provide valuable opportunities to build on existing policies and policies and to mainstream climate change legislation.  Countries are increasingly adopting mainstreaming strategies, but as this is a recent phenomenon, evidence and illustrations remain limited.

IPCC 2014: Mitigation – National & Sub-National Policies & Institutions

Since the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report in 2007, there has been a marked increase in national policies and legislation on climate change, however, these policies, taken together, have not yet achieved a substantial deviation in emissions from the past trend.

Mitigation scenarios suggest that a wide range of environmentally effective policies could be enacted that would be consistent with such goals. This chapter (part of the IPCC Climate Change 2014 - Climate Change Mitigation report) assesses national and sub‐national policies and institutions to mitigate climate change in this context. It assesses the strengths and weaknesses of various mitigation policy instruments and policy packages and how they may interact either positively or negatively. Sector‐specific policies are assessed in greater detail in individual sector chapters.

Many aspects of law-making on climate change require a great deal of foresight and medium to long term planning.  Adaptation, for example, can take the form of large-scale infrastructure projects that require a decade or more to complete; the same goes for large-scale renewable energy projects.  Convincing stakeholders of the need for high cost, long-term projects can be challenging, especially in the face of much uncertainty regarding future needs and impacts.

There are a few important steps parliaments can take to attract the necessary investments, and to build the political support needed for sufficiently large-scale actions and initiatives.  A first step, illustrated above, is to advocate for climate change provisions where possible.   This can range from commissioning assessment studies to greening procurement procedures.  Such initiatives serve to build awareness of climate change among decision-makers and key stakeholders. 

Secondly, parliamentarians can push for projects that tackle climate change and build climate resilience while addressing very real and existing concerns.  Examples include using land use policies to restrict development in flood-prone areas, which can help avoid the need for large-scale flood defence schemes in the future.  Public infrastructure investments (eg for the building of schools or hospitals) can include requirements that consider the impacts of increased temperatures and rainfall extremes.   To maximize these opportunities, parliamentarians should explore their role as representatives  and solicit feedback from constituents and civil society. 

Finally, parliaments can play a critical role in building sustainable development pathways that de-couple economic growth from an increase in carbon emissions.  More pollution is not a necessary side effect of sustainable growth, and decision-makers do not have to choose between the environment and the economy.  Climate-resilient, inclusive development is a realistic scenario if the necessary investments are made, and if policy-frameworks are shaped to favour sustainable solutions.

De-coupling carbon emissions and economic growth: Canada

The Canadian government is implementing a sector-by-sector regulatory approach to reduce GHG emissions.  It has already taken action on two of Canada's largest sources of GHG emissions—transportation and electricity—and is continuing to work on regulations for other major sources of GHG emissions, including the oil and gas sector.

As a result of collective action by governments, consumers and industry, Canada's 2020 GHG emissions are projected to be 128 Mt lower relative to a scenario with no action since 2005.  Since 2005, Canadian GHG emissions have decreased by 5.1 per cent while the economy has grown by 10.6 per cent.  For more information, please click here.  

Decoupling economic growth and carbon emissions is only possible by up-scaling investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency.  Legislators have a range of policy instruments at their disposal to attract the required investments.  For more details, see the UNDP-GEF publications on ‘Transforming On-Grid Renewable Energy Markets’ and on ‘Derisking Renewable Energy Development’. 

Transforming On-Grid Renewable Markets

As part of UNDP efforts to codify and share lessons learnt from these initiatives, this report addresses how scarce public resources can be used to catalyze larger private financial flows for renewable energy.  It provides an overview of UNDP-GEF’s extensive work supporting development of national renewable energy policies such as feed-in tariffs. In these activities UNDP-GEF assists developing countries to assess key risks and barriers to technology diffusion and then to identify a mix of policy and financial de-risking measures to remove these barriers and drive investment. This approach is illustrated through three case studies in Uruguay, Mauritius and Kazakhstan.

This report is complemented by a companion publication presenting an innovative UNDP financial modeling tool to assist policymakers in appraising different public instruments to promote clean energy.  

To read the full report, please click here.

De-Risking Renewable Energy Development

The transformational benefits of a concerted programme to introduce and implement de-risking instruments worldwide would be enormous, potentially unlocking billions of dollars of private investment, mitigating millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, and – through lowering the absolute costs of carbon abatement – enhancing the cost-effectiveness of complementary performance-based payment mechanisms such as those that may operate through NAMAs and the Green Climate Fund.

This report describes an innovative framework to support policymakers in quantitatively comparing the impact of different public instrument packages to scale-up renewable energy in developing countries. The report presents findings from case studies in four illustrative countries, and draws on these results to discuss possible directions for enhancing public interventions to promote renewable energy investment.

To read the full report, please click here.  

Ratifying International Action

Parliaments play an important role in the ratification of international climate change policies and agreements.  Where parliamentarians are already engaging with the topic and have passed national legislation in line with such agreements, ratification will move much more swiftly.  In countries where climate legislation is lacking or where political and parliamentary support for such policies remains limited, ratification processes will drag on.  In such cases the implementation of international policies and regulations will be compromised. 

For more information on the international action framework and the role of the national parliaments, please click here.