Monday, April 15, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

OP-ED: Time to re-model the crucible of law

Given that international law isn’t binding, justice is often elusive

Update : 29 Jul 2021, 04:07 AM

The European Union’s ambitious plans to help address climate change seem to have fallen flat on its face within hours of them being made public. 

Whatever discussions the politicians held with affected stakeholders, appear visionless. The aviation industry has termed proposed carbon neutrality targets as unrealistic, meaning aviation fuel alternatives won’t be ready by 2035. The cargo transportation industry has already declared that fines suggested for non-compliance are just a form of additional tax. 

The implication for the rest of the world hasn’t been factored in yet. International law is limited to not contravening with national laws. If the EU can agree to align the new laws with member countries -- and that’s a far cry -- it has a different battle on the global scale.

Airlines operating from outside the EU have a dilemma on their hands. Whether their aircraft will have to follow new emission standards while flying over EU territory is yet to be determined. The same applies to the cargo trade. All of this beyond the already outdated national laws and following on international ones. 

For the aviation cargo industry, the much publicized, welcomed, and incomprehensible public interest litigation of class action in the United States is an example. Courts ruled, and the tobacco industry paid through their noses, to settle passive-smoking health claims. The industry, at the time, claimed it was just another form of “tax” to boost revenue exchequers. These suits didn’t progress further because national laws elsewhere weren’t supportive of such damages.

The EU plan is similar. Raise the cost to polluters. Tobacco product consumption may have decreased in general, but it hasn’t gone away. Rising costs of shipping and travel have to translate ubiquitously across the board of brands as exports and trade increases. 

They won’t necessarily reduce. The Union is responsible for roughly 8% of carbon emissions in the world, with China, India, and the US bearing the actual brunt of the mischief. Few countries have specific climate-friendly laws, most covered by regulatory powers exercised by governments. 

The bunch of people elected by the people, the number of countries where such still, truly happens, are dwindling day by day and becoming remote from those that elect them. To further confound matters, such regulations are coming under increasing court challenges.

Take the example of Spain, where courts have ruled that the government’s pandemic lockdown was unconstitutional. That means those that were fined for violating restrictions will now get their money back. Surreptitiously, the UK has made its plans known that largely follow the EU law. So much for the UK to take back control of its laws! Whether the Spanish decision will spur similar lawsuits elsewhere cannot be ruled out. The resultant mess may well be a conjecture that must be worked out.

More and more, international law gets weaker in the face of national laws, geo-political realities, and ambitions, not to mention deeper probes into fundamental freedoms. Those operating under guises so thinly veiled that they reveal more than hide, can impose laws quicker, but will have major implementation issues. The outspoken Donald Trump was always blunt. A trillion trees planted wouldn’t help the targets of 1-2% reduction of carbon emissions. 

The impact of emissions has been so great, the damage so colossal, that everything from vegetable to meat consumption has to be part of the equation. Spain, once again, is to debate laws related to reducing meat consumption because every cattle reared requires 15 litres of water. Due to global warming, natural flows of water have been disrupted, over-extraction exacerbated it, and waste and overuse ruined it all. 

Water-sharing has been side-stepped by building daft planned dams and barrages. The basic rule that nothing is endless without renewal has been overlooked. The debate in Spain will be on how to have their beef and eat it too. India and vegans may well ask what is to happen to their staples if green stuff doesn’t grow for lack of water and soil fertility. Genetically modified crops draw on greater water consumption and heavy fertilizer use, and still the World Food Organization is estimating lower crop production due to adverse agricultural conditions, multi-cropping, and yes, grazing by cattle and animals. And the added by-product is vanishing of flora and fauna species.

Cheaper products, the bane of the ongoing trade wars, are possible due to use of artificial inputs such as plastic. Derivatives of the same are clogging not just rivers, but also oceans. That affects fish breeding and fish-farming. The impact of artificial fish, poultry, cattle, greens production on human health is already a cause of concern. Yet, all such vocations are supported by national laws and regulations if in contravention of international laws.

Given that international law isn’t binding, justice is often elusive. The mire of commercialization, economics, demand, and coercion at times take the Mickey out of laws. Regulations are faster to be drafted and put in implementation than laws, which must follow more tortuous routes. 

Refusing to answer questions on grounds it may be incriminating don’t make much sense. Redefining life-time sentencing as 30 years is an astonishing concept. Charles Dickens was certainly satirical in stating “if that is the law, then the law is an ass.” The law is man’s creation. Creation is not so. 

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.



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