Tag Archives: John Knox

Mongabay: COP28 ‘breakthrough’ elevates litigation as vital route to climate action

Montana is known for its “big sky” and wide-open spaces, but the state also supports an enormous oil, gas and coal industry. A group of young Montanans have successfully pressed forward on a lawsuit arguing that Montana is in violation of the environmental protections enshrined in the state’s constitution, because it is failing to consider climate change in approving fossil fuel projects. Image by Justin Catanoso.

While I didn’t travel to Dubai in 2023 to cover the 28th UN climate summit, my editor and I did plan a story to coincide with the come. Here it is. It’s a story I got turned on to at COP26 in Glasgow two years ago — the role climate litigation was playing around the world in an attempt to force climate action and emission reductions from countries, states, regions, and corporations. All summit agreements, including the historic Paris Agreement, are voluntary and carry no enforcement provisions when climate-related promises are invariably broken.

Thousands of lawsuits are in the pipeline globally, especially in the United States, and there have been dramatic wins in a variety of courtrooms from Montana to Amsterdam. But as my story explains, expecting lawsuits to quickly enforce necessary climate mitigation amidst a climate crisis is a longshot at best. As one of my legal sources told me, “There’s a lot of energy and activity going into these (legal) actions, but it’s too early to say whether it moves the needle.”

Thanks to my good friend John Knox — a Wake Forest law school professor, an expert on international environmental law, and a former UN special representative on human rights and climate change — for connecting me to several expert sources in New York and London for this story.

Dan Galpern, shown here at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency already has the authority under existing federal law to force a national phaseout of fossil fuel burning. He is preparing a federal lawsuit to force the EPA to act. Photo by Justin Catanoso.

Mongabay: COP26 – Are climate declarations and emission reduction pledges legally binding?

Climate Action Center at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. So many pledges and promises made at these annual summits, so many pledges unfilled and promises broken. What’s an ailing planet to do? File a lawsuit, that’s what.

There has long been a general sense that the voluntary, nonbinding nature of the Paris Agreement was a fatal flaw, a way for major polluters to sign their names to carbon-reduction pledges they had no intention of ever honoring.

Well, maybe. Maybe not.

In a story here that fell into my lap and which my ever-skeptical editor Glenn Schererurged me to pursue, I learned that the new frontier in climate action isn’t in pledges and promises, but in litigation. Just ask Royal Dutch Shell, a corporate giant in The Netherlands which a national court ruled was not doing enough to reduce its own carbon footprint, thus keeping the country from meeting its own reduction targets under Paris. Promises, meet legal enforcement. Shell is not a signatory of Paris, but was successfully held liable just the same, as my story explains.

This story focuses on a couple of attorneys who were active and visible during this climate summit, one of whom reminded me of a male, eco-crusading Erin Brockovich. Wake Forest law school professor John Knox, my colleague and an expert in international climate litigation, verified what I was learning in Glasgow, as did a lead attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, in which my sister-in-law Stephanie Parent, an Oregon-based environmental attorney herself, put me in touch.

A COP26 march in Sheffield, England. In 2015, in Paris, and at all COP summits, protestors who say that the common people are those most impacted by climate change have been left to march outside, while grave decisions, or the lack of them, were pursued inside. Photo credit: Tim Dennell on Visualhunt.com

Mongabay: Climate mitigation has an ally in need of recognition and land rights: indigenous peoples in tropical countries

Wayne Walker, a Woods Hole Research Center scientist, in the forest with indigenous peoples. Photo courtesy of Woods Hole Research Center

In advance of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco from Sept. 12-14, 2018, Mongabay special projects editor Willie Shubert encouraged me to attend and cover the event. In several phone discussions, we decided I should focus my coverage mainly in an area of climate mitigation I have not written about previously: the impact of indigenous peoples on the forests in which they live, and the injustice that so many live on ancestral land to which they no longer hold title.

The story is here. It’s a story that resonated with readers and was retweeted widely, including by the Ford Foundation, which has 157,000 followers. An excerpt:

“Economic analyses make it fairly clear that indigenous peoples’ lands that are titled and secured, especially in Latin America where the data is most abundant, have deforestation rates that are three to four times lower than similar lands not held by indigenous peoples,” Peter Veit, director of the Land and Resource Rights initiative at the World Resources Institute, told Mongabay. “Having title to the land is critical.”





Mongabay: Climate negotiators focus on carbon credits, underplay human rights


The opening session of the UN midyear climate conference in Bonn, Germany.

The opening session of the UN midyear climate conference in Bonn, Germany. Photo by Justin Catanoso

My second and final story from my four days covering the UN Midyear Climate Conference in Bonn, Germany, in mi-May 2016 focused on a policy recommendation on human rights and Third World development proposed by my Wake Forest colleague John Knox, the UN Special Rappatour on Human Right and Climate Change. The link to the story is here.

John Knox WFUJohn’s proposal sounds so sensible, I write, “That is until you realize that CDM projects were established by the Kyoto Protocol as a way for wealthy industrialized countries to earn carbon-emission credits against their pollution caps by investing in clean energy or efficient energy projects in developing countries. Millions if not billions of dollars are at stake in CDM projects financed by the World Bank. It’s not hard to imagine how these complex international business transactions might be slowed or even undermined by adding local human rights requirements into the future project mix.”

UN climate talks update from Paris: 2 degrees C by 2100, or 1.5 to stay alive?

 A fuller treatment of this story was published on mongabay.com here.

A Filipino marine stands guard at the village of Guiuan in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Liam Kennedy courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

A Filipino marine stands guard at the village of Guiuan in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Liam Kennedy courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

By Justin Catanoso

The UN climate summit is entering its final 48 hours of negotiations, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in a packed press conference, today (Dec. 9, 2015) promised an unprecedented agreement. Some 186 countries will agree, to some voluntary extent, to reduce their carbon emissions in order to hold global warming from pre-industrial times to below an increase of  2 degree C by 2100.

“We can accomplish so much more in the next few days, the next few hours,” Kerry said. “The decisions are tough, the debates are complex. But we all know the situation. We won’t leave Paris without a agreement And we all know what a effective agreement that looks like. It needs to be as ambitious as possible.”

To that end, a steady drumbeat of momentum has built in negotiations this week toward a more aggressive global warming target. A new catch-phrase has emerged in one press briefing after another: “1.5 to stay alive.”

“1.5 degrees is vital to stay alive,” said Samantha Smith with WWF International in a briefing Tuesday. “That should be the long-term goal.”

A group of 20 countries which call themselves the Climate Vulnerable Forum — think Seycelles, Maldives, the Marshall islands — are making the most noise for language in the text to hold global warming to a 1.5 degree C rise instead of 2 degrees C. The forum is chaired by the president of the Philippines, which has been hit by three of the strongest typhoons in its history in the past three years.

The web site tcktcktck.org spells out the difference in a mere half-degree Celcius:

“You want to solve the problem,” said John Knox, the UN’s special Rappateaur on the issue of John Knox WFUhuman rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. “Expressing 1.5 degrees as the target will have the effect of doing what’s necessary to solve the problem. Warming of 2 degrees just isn’t going to be enough to prevent massive climate change disruption over the next 50-80 years.”

Already the language in the final text appears to be fluid. Where it used to say “2 degree C,” there are now options such as “below 2 degrees C” or “far below 2 degrees C” or “between 1.5 and 2 degrees C.” Few will predict where the language will land.

There’s just one problem, said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists. If the world could somehow magically stop burning fossil fuels tomorrow, the damage baked into the climate already is leading global warming to at least another 1.3-degree rise by 2100. Since that’s not going to happen, a target of 1.5 degree C may simply be unrealistic, Meyer said.


Mongabay: Paris climate meeting begins in optimism; REDD+ part of solution?


  • Working for mongabay.com is such a pleasure. I have this great editor in Vermont, Glenn Scherer. He knows the issues cold. He make a good sentence great. He finds amazing photos to run with my stories. This is my last pre-COP21 story. The next one will be from Paris. Here’s Glenn’s summary:
  • Each nation participating in COP21 has made its own, self-determined commitment to the amount of carbon emissions it can trim from its economy.
  • Unfortunately, the total carbon commitments by all nations falls roughly 50% short of the cuts needed to prevent catastrophic climate change.
  • REDD+, a policy that allows industrial nations to keep burning fossil fuels while paying developing countries to preserve forests, may be part of the solution, though some argue it lacks the monitoring mechanisms needed to prevent cheating.

News & Observer: UN climate change summit could bring first progress in years

On the eve of the 21st United Nations climate summit in Paris, France — a city in which I will arrive on Friday morning, Dec. 4, the News & Observer of Raleigh runs on its Sunday front page a story of mine regarding what’s at stake for the talks and what obstacles lie ahead to meet carbon emissions target to slow the rate of global warming.

The story also appeared in the Charlotte Observer, and likely other McClatchy newspapers in the chain. John Knox, a Wake Forest law professor and special UN representative on climate change and human rights, was a key source.

Wake Forest University law professor John Knox is the United Nation’s special representative on climate change and human rights. He will be in Paris this week for the international climate summit.

News & Record: Commentary — Pope may influence climate talks

N&R opinion page photo LRG

I was a staff writer for the News & Record of Greensboro from April 1987 to April 1998 — 11 years. When I decided to take the job as executive editor of a new weekly newspaper in town, The Business Journal, I was asked to leave the paper immediately, even though I was prepared to give at least four weeks notice.  Today, Nov. 29, 2015, I have my first byline in my old daily newspaper in 17 years. It’s a commentary on the UN climate summit in Paris, France, which I will cover for mongabay.com.