Climate legislation needs to be backed by effective implementation, according to the study. Countries such as Brazil have extensive rules when it comes to deforestation, but their implementation remains poor, the study states | Photo: ABC News

Climate legislation effective in cutting emissions but needs bigger push, says study

A new study has quantified the gains and savings the world saw in terms of emissions between 1999 and 2016 due legislative action around the world

How effective are climate laws? At a time when countries are far from achieving their Paris Agreement targets, a new study published in the journal Nature has observed the impact that climate laws in 133 countries between 1996 and 2016 have had on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). The results are encouraging, in that legislative activity – in the form of parliamentary acts, executive orders and policies, have had an impact – both short term and long term. But there is room for much more initiative.

According to the study, each new law reduces annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 0.78% nationally in the short term (during the first three years). In the long term (more than three years), the percentage goes up to 1.79%.

On a global scale, the results are a bit more encouraging. The study found that in 2016, for example, current climate laws were responsible for an annual reduction in global CO2 emissions of 5.9 GtCO2, more than the US CO2 output that year. Cumulatively, the study calculated CO2 emissions savings to be 37.7 GtCO2 between 1996 and 2016, which is one year’s worth of global CO2 output. The study, however, found that the impact of laws on other GHGs was comparatively much lower at 3.9 GtCO2. The study suggested a reason for this could be that current laws focus more on energy and related emissions and less on agriculture and land use, which are the main sources of non-CO2 emissions.

Source: Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from national climate legislation, Nature Climate Change

So why and how are these laws working? To answer the first question, study found that more than executive orders and policies, it was parliamentary acts or legislation that were driving this change. But this also depends on the discipline with which these laws are implemented. For example, Brazil and Indonesia, despite having several deforestation rules, have failed to tackle the problem because of ineffective implementation.  

The study found that countries with more climate laws and higher government effectiveness, for example the European Union and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, achieved two-thirds of the estimated CO2 reduction and close to half of the non-CO2 cuts. These countries, according to the study, have succeeded in stabilising carbon emissions at 1999 levels. But globally, climate legislation has managed to offset only a third of CO2 emissions growth since 1999, according to the study. While current climate legislations seem to have delivered modest rewards, they do emphasise the importance of a robust legal framework in order to tackle climate change. The results also underline the effectiveness of parliament legislation in reducing emissions, as opposed to executive orders. The study puts forth an achievable goal that governments should follow going forward – increase the number of climate laws and implement them in a disciplined manner.

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