Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Supreme Court Justice Carnwath: Climate Activist

A sitting UK Supreme Court judge took part in a Rio+20 event that said the UN (a political body) should be given more scope & authority.


Headline says: “Lord Carnwath in Rio.” Click to enlarge; source:

The closer one examines the recent climate conference co-sponsored by the UK Supreme Court, the worse it looks. I’ve previously discussed the 45-minute keynote address given by Philippe Sands, in which that law professor urged international courts to “play a role here in finally scotching” non-mainstream climate perspectives.

But the video recording of that speech includes the remarks of three other individuals. Strung together, this is among the most terrifying 90 minutes I’ve ever witnessed. The event at which Sands’ speech was delivered was chaired by sitting UK Supreme Court Justice Lord Robert Carnwath. His opening remarks demonstrate that activist scientists have been joined by activist judges.

It isn’t possible to listen to Lord Carnwath’s remarks and conclude that, where the climate debate is concerned, he’s keeping an open mind. At the 5-minute, 12-second mark on the video he says the climate law conference was his idea. He tells the audience how “delighted” organizers are

to have received a message of strong support from his Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, which I read to the conference earlier today and which can be seen on the conference website. In it, he reminded us of his call for the new climate agreement in Paris to be, as he put it, a Magna Carta for the Earth. [2:43]

Lord Carnwath has known Prince Charles for more than a quarter century. According to his Supreme Court bio, he “served as Attorney General to the Prince of Wales from 1988 to 1994.” In his private life, Lord Carnwath is entitled to share the Prince’s views about climate, homeopathy, or any other topic. But it is another matter altogether for a sitting Supreme Court Justice to declare publicly that:

President Obama has said that we are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it. On that basis, the forthcoming Paris negotiations, under the UN climate change convention, are a crucial test of our ability as a global community to address those challenges. [3:22]

These are overtly political remarks. Mentioning December’s UN Paris climate summit twice in less than a minute. Characterizing such negotiations as a crucial test for the global community. Parroting clichéd nonsense from the US president. (Eco-activists have been telling us we’re the last generation “with a chance to do anything” since at least 1970.)

As chairman, Lord Carnwath set the tone. His remarks signaled to other participants that it’s OK to promote climate treaties (political instruments) at an academic law symposium. Judicial neutrality is at enormous risk if these smart people didn’t understand that wearing one’s personal climate politics on one’s sleeve is verboten in a professional setting.

As Lord Carnwath himself points out, the courts may yet be the ultimate arbiters where climate action is concerned. They may be called upon “to give effect” to the climate commitments signed in Paris. In his words:

Ultimately it will be for us as judges – national or international – to work it out, with the help of legal practitioners and academics. We need to prepare ourselves for that task and to help our judicial colleagues around the world do the same. The purpose of this conference is to stimulate such a debate which I hope will continue up to Paris and beyond. [4:17]

Ah, yes. That word debate. It means something rather different to climate activists than to normal people. The four individuals who appear on that 90-minute video fall within an exceedingly narrow range of climate opinion. Law professor Lavanya Rajamani, who gets the floor for 10 minutes, has been a consultant to the UN’s climate secretariat, and a climate negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States. This woman earns a living off the ever-expanding international climate infrastructure.

She says there’s “a pressing need for an authoritative statement by an international court on the legal obligations of states in relation to climate change” (1:13:07). Admitting that she feels discouraged by the current state of climate negotiations, Rajamani suggests a profoundly anti-democratic solution:

since it’s clear to those of us involved in international negotiations that one can’t expect too much of the international negotiations, we have no option but to expect something, at least, from international courts. 1:17:17]

The political realm isn’t delivering the desired results. So the courts should step into the breach. She said this. Out loud. And not a single person in that room gasped.

I’ve previously mentioned that some of the prominent legal minds who attended this conference had their travel expenses paid by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). This is wholly improper, since the UN isn’t a disinterested party where climate is concerned. The Paris summit is, after all, a UN gathering aimed at keeping alive a UN treaty.

How does a law conference secure funding from UNEP? Perhaps it has something to do with Lord Carnwath’s longstanding relationship with that organization. The UNEP website tells us he has worked with them since 2002.


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A month after he was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice three years ago, Lord Carnwath traveled to Brazil to take part in a UNEP Rio+20 event. Indeed, he wrote about it for the Guardian under the headline “Judges for the environment: we have a crucial role to play.” His article tells us about a Brazilian judge who “regularly orders offenders to attend an environmental night school he has created,” and that former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has praised a particular legal approach. But more worrisome is that the event in which he participated issued a political statement advocating an increase in the UN’s authority and reach.

In Lord Carnwath’s words:

The congress adopted a declaration…calling on governments to strengthen UNEP’s role, and to develop more effective institutions for dealing with transborder crime and international environmental disputes. [bold added]

The full text of that 3-page declaration is here. The admirable nature of the UN is a major theme on page one, where various UN meetings and documents are extolled and the “important role” played by UNEP is recognized. On page two, the assembled legal minds declare that UNEP should be put in charge of global environmental law:

existing international governance institutions to protect the global environment should be strengthened. We must create modern institutional structures capable of building networks and improved sharing of decision-making. There is an urgent need to give consideration to transforming UNEP to effectively lead and advance the global policy and law-making agenda for the environment within the framework of sustainable development. [bold added]

On page three, we read that the document’s authors should be awarded positions of influence in that new UN bureaucracy:

With UNEPs leadership, an international institutional network should be established…under the guidance of selected Chief Justices, Heads of Jurisdiction, Attorneys General, Chief Prosecutors, Auditors General, eminent legal scholars and other eminent members of the law and enforcement community. [bold added]

Ladies and gentleman, the UN is doing with judges and lawyers what it has long done with scientists. Wooing them with titles and travel. Coaxing them into the fold. Lobbying and co-opting them.

And it’s all happening right out in the open. A sitting member of the UK Supreme Court is participating in overtly political UN activities. Rather than hiding this fact, Lord Carnwath has advertised the details in a major newspaper – and on the Supreme Court’s website.


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