The Czech Republic is failing to combat climate change and must introduce sufficient and concrete measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a ruling by the Municipal Court in Prague. This decision is also important in light of the latest data on the climate crisis published by the World Meteorological Society. The International Panel on Climate Change also focuses its report on mitigation measures, their implementation, and effectiveness. Our article addresses also other effects of climate change not only on domestic and international legislation but also, for example, on the security situation.
Municipal Court in Prague: Mitigation measures in the fight against climate change insufficient
In June, a landmark decision was reached in the first Czech climate lawsuit brought by six different plaintiffs – the Climate Lawsuit Association, foresters and peasants, and the municipality of Svatý Jan pod Skalou – with the Czech Government, the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Transport as defendants, as the entities in charge of the various parts of the climate agenda.
The applicants accused the defendants in particular of insufficient activity in adopting mitigation and adaptation measures. The applicants considered that insufficient measures were being taken to prevent further aggravation of climate change and to adapt the Czech landscape to the irreversible changes brought about by the environmental crisis.
As far as mitigation measures are concerned, the court sided with the applicants – the state indeed lacks sufficient rules in place to prevent emissions. The state, through its ministries, must propose legislation that is more ambitious and specific. At the same time, it cannot impose an obligation on the defendants to take concrete steps, since that is a political, not a legal, issue. However, unlike the proposed prayer for relief, the court did not set any time limit within which such measures are to be taken. As regards the adaptation measures, the court found them to be sufficient and dismissed the respective action.
Climate change and its impact on security
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has issued a publication called Environment of Peace: Security in a New Era of Risk, which deals with the increasing security risks in the wake of the climate crisis. The authors identify two parallel crises – security and environmental. According to available data, the number of armed conflicts has increased twofold in the last ten years. These conflicts have resulted in widespread energy poverty and reduced food security, which can lead to famine in poorer parts of the world. However, natural disasters triggered by climate change can have similar consequences, disrupting global supply chains and threatening people’s livelihoods. Examples include the heatwave in Russia and changes in US energy legislation, which have affected the international food market to such an extent that tensions in the Middle East have increased noticeably.
The authors also focus on the socially just transition to a low-carbon society and analyse the ways in which this transition can be achieved. They point out that it is necessary to build renewable energy sources 3 to 5 times faster than at present, and even 5 to 12 times faster in the case of the expansion of electric vehicles. However, effective solutions often have side effects, such as the construction of hydroelectric power plants, which are estimated to have made over 80 million people homeless, while dams also affect biodiversity, take up agricultural and forest land and increase the risk of flooding. Not every solution can be a suitable adaptation solution, and a range of factors must be considered to avoid forced migration of populations. It is therefore clear that governments need to take into account that security and climate crises are closely linked and need to be tackled in an interconnected manner.
Key climate change indicators confirm that human activity is affecting the planet
Four key indicators of climate change – greenhouse gas emissions, rising ocean levels, rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification – broke records again in 2021, the World Meteorological Organisation warns in their report. In addition, according to the available data, there is to be a further increase in these monitored categories as well as an analysed range of indicators to illustrate climate change.
In 2021, the average temperature was measured to be approximately 1.11 °C higher than the pre-industrial global average temperature. At the same time, the last seven years have been documented as the warmest on record.
The report also highlights the fact that, as the oceans absorb around 23% of the annual carbon emissions released by humans, a chemical reaction between salt water and the absorbed carbon dioxide results in ocean acidification. This process endangers organisms and entire ecosystems, which in turn leads to a reduced physical and financial availability of sufficient quality food for the population, and to a reduction of tourism, for instance. Although there was a slight slowdown in the melting of glaciers last year, there has also been a rise in ocean levels over the last eight years, by an average of 4.5 mm. All these data confirm that it is absolutely essential to take well-thought-out action to prevent further warming.
Mitigation measures around the world
The International Panel on Climate Change has updated its global assessment of mitigation actions and outlined their progress and future solutions. The working group focused, among other things, on mitigation in the context of sustainable development. The authors of the documents stress the need for a fair and inclusive process, especially with regard to the protection of vulnerable populations and a just and carbon-free world.
A solution is offered by the so-called SDG framework (Social Development Goals), which presents 17 goals that should be achieved as soon as possible – in particular, the eradication of poverty and hunger, the introduction of affordable health care, education systems, etc. – in order to assess the long-term consequences of mitigation on sustainable development. Understanding the co-benefits associated with mitigation is key to avoiding climate change.
However, alternative mitigation measures are associated with various feasibility problems – depending not only on the technologies available, but also on social and political trends in place and time. Indeed, technological development is noticeably faster than the pace at which changes in established institutions are occurring. Insufficient institutional capacity and economic reasons, therefore, appear to be key factors in halting climate change in the shortest time possible.
In conclusion, the authors of the study outline the basic principles for achieving the identified goals – to think ahead, but also to act, to strengthen cooperation between governments and to be ready to adapt. Finally, they remind us that only a socially just transition has a chance of success and that everyone at all levels of the decision-making process must participate in order to see results.