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Global Environmental Court Could Punish U.S. and Others

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The United States' dodge of the Kyoto Protocol and other environmental initiatives might no longer go unpunished in the future.

A British judge has proposed an international "supreme legal authority" to rule on environmental issues and punish countries and companies that degrade the environment, according to a news report.

The ruling body — just an idea at this point — would be similar to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The new body would enforce any global agreements on limiting greenhouse gas emissions, for one thing. But it would also "fine countries or companies that fail to protect endangered species or degrade the natural environment and enforce the 'right to a healthy environment,'" according to The Telegraph.

The United States is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, an international environmental treaty aimed at stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, but the effect is non-binding because the country has never ratified the protocall.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has reportedly agreed that the concept of an international environmental authority "will be taken into account when considering how to make these international agreements on climate change binding," the newspaper reports.

Negotiations on a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol are set to start at a United Nation's Climate Change Conference now under way in Poland. Some hope that developed nations will agree to cut emissions drastically, though such expectations have been dampened in recent weeks as the global economy has declined and financial concerns have taken center stage in the political arena.

"The financial crisis will have an impact on climate change," said Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the organization's top climate official. With oil prices dropping and investment funds tight, clean energy projects are being shelved. "You already are seeing around the world a number of wind energy projects being pushed back," he said.

Indeed, U.S. oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens recently said his own ambitious plans for a wind farm would be put on hold for now.

Meanwhile, some leaders at the conference in Poland hope the election of Barack Obama will herald greater U.S. cooperation on efforts to curb climate change. Obama has said he plans to invest $150 billion of federal funds in clean energy technology over the next 10 years.

This article is from the LiveScience Water Cooler: What people are talking about in the world of science and beyond.

Robert Roy Britt
Rob was a writer and editor at Space.com starting in 1999. He served as managing editor of Live Science at its launch in 2004. He is now Chief Content Officer overseeing media properties for the sites’ parent company, Purch. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, and in 1998 he was founder and editor of the science news website ExploreZone. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.