GoJIL Vol. 10, No. 1 (2020)
Preventing a Warming War: Protection of the Environment and Reducing Climate Conflict Risk as a Challenge of International Law
Kirsten Davies, Thomas Riddell and Jürgen Scheffran
Global warming poses serious risks to the environment, communities, and international peace and security. Significant concerns have been raised that, in the case of climate policy failures, the world may enter a Warming War, threatening the future viability of the planet and its life-sustaining ecosystems. While the regime of treaties and agreements governing climate change acknowledges the science and threats posed by global warming, it is not well positioned to constrain the securitization of climate change. A function of international law is to prevent armed conflict by resolving disputes through the judicial application of principles and norms governing relations between States. However, to date, it has been ineffective in addressing the impacts of climate change on armed conflict, because the treaties applicable to climate change fail to provide preventative, enforcement, and dispute resolution mechanisms. It is time for international law to establish judicial bodies with jurisdiction for conflict resolution and response capacities in the pre-phase to a Warming War. The challenge is to develop soft security measures to avoid climate conflict risks turning violent and becoming a hard security issue, attracting the use of force by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). The establishment of an International Court for the Environment (ICE) is proposed as an entity that could enforce legally binding norms and resolve climate-induced disputes, opening an avenue for stakeholders to bring climate loss and damage cases to court. Aside from the reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG) to limit global warming, and the establishment of new legal regimes, alternative actions can be undertaken to protect the environment and communities, by mitigating climate-related risks. There is growing discourse surrounding climate change as a threat multiplier, exacerbating existing vulnerabilities. In the pre-phase to conflict, there is an urgent need to identify these vulnerabilities and their levels of influence on the compound effects of climate and conflict risks.
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