International Climate Change

The purpose of this international climate change blog is to provide the latest legal analysis of the international climate change negotiations ahead of, and beyond, the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2015.
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Posted on: 14 November 2017

COP23 and the current commitment gap – will Bonn galvanise action pre-2020?

Say “commitment gap” in the context of the climate change regime, and most people will probably think of the recent report by UNEP (the United Nations Environment Programme) highlighting the gap between Parties’ commitments under the Paris Agreement (the NDCs) and the emissions reductions required to meet the 2-degree temperature goal.

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Posted on: 6 October 2017

Keeping Paris on track and tackling Trumpgate: the agenda for COP23 takes shape

Given the fragility of the legal architecture for tackling international climate change, there is no such thing as an ‘unimportant’ meeting in this arena.

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Posted on: 28 July 2017

‘Utterly unprecedented’: A brief guide to America’s potentially game-changing climate case

Their lawyers fought it every step of the way, but now the US President, Secretary of State, Defence Secretary and nine federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, will have to answer in court for the simple but far-reaching legal question posed by a group of young people from Oregon: ‘Do we have a right to life in a sustainable climate?’

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Posted on: 19 May 2017

Can ambition run backwards? Trump’s post-truth Paris threat

As negotiators to the UNFCCC complete their meeting in Bonn ahead of November’s COP 23, Donald Trump and his administration are considering backsliding on US commitments to the Paris Agreement, effectively applying their doctrine of ‘alternative facts’ to the global climate deal.

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Posted on: 13 March 2017

Is litigation the new frontier of climate change law?

It has only created a minor ripple in mainstream news circles, but its contribution to international climate change law could be far greater. Following on from the successful cases in The Netherlands and Pakistan last year, the Federal Administrative Court of Austria has recently ruled on the incompatibility of a third runway at Vienna-Schwechat airport with the country’s national and international climate change commitments.

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Posted on: 18 January 2017

Is the financial world starting to finally get to grips with climate change?

‘Money makes the world go round’ is a well-worn adage with a distinct flavour of truth in the modern era of global capitalism. Yet the links between the financial world and the stable climate upon which the planet as a whole depends have so far received limited exploration.

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Posted on: 14 November 2016

COP22 and contradictions between commitments and actions

Following the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on 4th November, the 22nd meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change commenced in Marrakech. As if to illustrate poignantly the challenge to be met if the paper commitments are to actually prevent dangerous anthropogenic climate change, two articles were published last week which reflect the extent to which the continued reality on the ground stands in stark contrast to the rhetoric and pledges at international climate change events.

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Posted on: 18 October 2016

Paris Agreement entry into force: Much ado about something, but much more to do

It is nice to be reminded that, sometimes, things can happen more quickly than anticipated. The ‘best estimate’ for the crossing of the threshold for the entry into force of the Paris Agreement was the end of 2016. Instead, the threshold of 55% of Parties accounting for at least 55% of total global emissions was reached on 5th October.

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Posted on: 8 July 2016

Ignoring climate risk risks liability for pension fund trustees and fund managers

Pension fund trustees and fund managers can no longer ignore the risk that climate change poses to their investments, particularly in the longer term. That was the conclusion of a high-level seminar this week to mark the two-year anniversary of the Law Commission report ‘Fiduciary Duties and Investment Intermediaries’.

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Posted on: 28 April 2016

The Paris Agreement – could it be in force in 2016?

Fears that the momentum from COP21 in Paris would fizzle in the following months appear to have been dashed at the official Paris Agreement signing session which took place in New York last Friday 22nd April. Not only did representatives from 175 Parties attend to sign the Agreement, but fifteen of them – primarily small island states particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts – deposited their instruments of ratification at the same time.

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Posted on: 26 February 2016

Finance, transparency and compliance – Key features of the Paris Agreement (Part Two)

Article 6 – This part of the Agreement establishes a “mechanism to contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and support sustainable development”, a device to support implementation through both market and non-market instruments; the latter reflecting an aversion of a number of Parties to market mechanisms such as carbon trading.

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Posted on: 9 February 2016

Key features of and the occasional surprise in the Paris Agreement (Part One)

The text finally agreed in Paris does not lend itself to easy navigation or digestion; the absence of sub-headings makes it necessary to dive into each paragraph in detail in order to understand the subject matter. This article will summarise the first set of key provisions and points of interest for legal practitioners.

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Posted on: 18 December 2015

The Paris Agreement: Symbolism rather than historical significance

The homepage of the UNFCCC website, like most of the post-COP21 publicity, proclaims the Paris Agreement to be “historic”. It adds, as a sub-heading, that 195 countries have “set a path to keep temperature rises well below 2 degrees Celsius”.

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Posted on: 8 December 2015

The truth about what will really enable us to tackle climate change effectively

At the heart of any discourse are assumptions that are taken to be beyond question. The dominant climate change discourse encircling the current COP21 negotiations is based on several such assumptions which therefore lie outside the scope of what is being discussed, not only by ministers and negotiators, but by also commentators.

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Posted on: 4 December 2015

13 pages down – update on the text at the midway point

Posted by: Frances Lawson Four days of fervent negotiations have delivered what the COP21 hosts had requested – another revised version of the Paris Agreement text for consideration ahead of the second and final week. In addition to the Paris Agreement itself, Parties are simultaneously negotiating two other documents – a Decision on the implementation

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Posted on: 4 December 2015

Why Obama’s fine words have fallen too late

Posted by: Frances Lawson Of the various COP21 headlines that have hit the media during the first few days of the conference, one of the most celebrated was President Obama’s concession that “some” parts of the text should “have legal force”.  With the US a longstanding opponent of any binding commitments under the UNFCCC given

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Posted on: 1 December 2015

It’s all in the brackets – the final COP21 negotiating text (Part 2)

Posted by: Frances Lawson The final text for the Paris Conference was published at 23:30 at the very end of the last negotiating session. Spread over 59 pages, the text is divided into three parts: the first 31 pages set out the options for the Draft Agreement, the second 20 pages are devoted to what

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Posted on: 23 November 2015

It’s all in the brackets – the final COP21 negotiating text (Part 1)

Posted by: Frances Lawson The final text for the Paris Conference was published at 23:30 at the very end of the last negotiating session. Spread over 59 pages, the text is divided into three parts: the first 31 pages set out the options for the Draft Agreement, the second 20 pages are devoted to what

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Posted on: 23 October 2015

All about ambition – Day 5 of the final COP21 negotiating session

Posted by: Frances Lawson With well over a hundred INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) now submitted to the UNFCCC Secretariat, one of the talking points of this final negotiating session has been the adequacy of the mitigation pledges made therein relative to the target to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius. The picture is not

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Posted on: 22 October 2015

Red lines and dividing lines – Day 4 of the final COP21 negotiating session

Posted by: Frances Lawson My debut appearance at a UNFCCC negotiating session met with an inauspicious start. Those with ‘observer’ status, of which I form part, have been unceremoniously excluded from the negotiating rooms themselves. If ever there was a sign of a process under acute stress, this is it. Such is the tension around

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Posted on: 8 October 2015

Is it time for the International Court of Justice to give its opinion on climate change?

Posted by: Frances Lawson Between 17th and 19th September 2015, lawyers from around the world converged on London for a 3-day climate change symposium hosted and organised by King’s College London. In light of the recent Dutch Urgenda case (see earlier post on that subject), one of the underlying themes of the symposium was the

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Posted on: 29 September 2015

Compare and contrast: INDC scorecard for major polluters published

Posted by: Frances Lawson With so many INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) having been submitted to the UNFCCC Secretariat, evaluating them all, or even just the key ones, has become a task too mighty for most. Fortunately, US NGO the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) has just published a handy ‘scorecard’ assessing the proposed contributions

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Posted on: 14 September 2015

Less than three months but still a long way to go – Analysis of the latest climate change negotiations

Posted by: Frances Lawson All Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) came together in Bonn at the start of September for the penultimate negotiating session on a new binding legal agreement ahead of the 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris this December. The five days in Bonn did not

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Posted on: 28 August 2015

More coherence but little substance: The latest COP21 negotiating text

Posted by: Frances Lawson On Monday, all Parties involved in the UN climate change negotiations will converge on the German city of Bonn for the penultimate negotiating session ahead of the 21st Conference of the Parties in December. Their task – shaping a text that is capable of agreement by Ministers in Paris – has

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Posted on: 12 August 2015

Obstacles on the road to an effective legal agreement in Paris – Part Four

Posted by: Frances Lawson With the submission of Parties’ mitigation commitments gathering pace, the obstacles to an effective legal agreement at the 21st Conference of the Parties are becoming ever clearer. Below is the fourth of a selection of the most contentious issues that remain to be resolved if the new agreement is to be

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