The delegates who will gather for the star-studded Paris climate summit include celebrities, presidents and perhaps even the Pope. Among other things, they will be asked to consider the formation of an ‘International Tribunal of Climate Justice’, which developed countries would be hauled before for breaching agreed limits on greenhouse gas emissions. That the proposed body will seek to be ‘non-punitive, non-adversarial and non-judicial’ does not reassure. A tribunal, if it is worthy of the name, ought to be all those things.
Does the threat of climate change really justify such a system? It is disturbing to think how many world leaders and policymakers might casually answer ‘yes’. Barack Obama, for example, recently claimed that ‘no challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a change in climate’ — seeming momentarily to forget that civilisation has spent the past 65 years never more than a few button-presses away from nuclear annihilation. And in many countries — Britain among them — climate change will actually save lives because fewer pensioners will perish in winter. True, there are risks, as well as benefits, from rising global temperatures. But it takes an extreme reading of data to reach the conclusion that Armageddon is more likely to manifest itself meteorologically than through warfare.
Never has the ability of climate science to project future trends in global temperatures looked so shaky. And yet never have the policymakers who work on international treaties been so determined to use those projections to try to drive measures which could seriously harm the global economy. It is now a quarter of a century since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its first assessment report; sufficient time to test the predictions it made then against what has been observed since.
In 1990, the IPCC predicted a rise in global temperatures over the ensuing century of 0.3˚C