The UN Climate Summit commenced last week in New York City, coinciding with Climate Week. The heightened attention brought to last week’s events echoes serious concerns involving the environment and international obligations. These events are indicative of the growing attention paid to states’ relationship with the environment, yet what is lacking from these events is substantive reform that will have a lasting, positive impact on the environment.
There have been a large number of demonstrations and rallies prior to the UN Climate Summit, urging heads of states to take more stringent action to prevent climate change. The People’s Climate March “ . . . campaign[ed] for curbs on carbon emissions, ahead of the UN climate summit in New York . . . In Manhattan, organisers said some 310,000 people joined a march that was also attended by UN chief Ban Ki-moon. Earlier, huge demonstrations took place in Australia and Europe.” These global demonstrations have involved more than 600,000 people, with the rallies in New York accounting for more than half of the global demonstrators.
Despite the public outcry for environmental reform, critics of climate change conferences have urged for stronger action by states, instead of general good-faith obligations to manage climate change. “Underneath the overheated rhetoric [of the Summit] and the U.N. platitudes about acting together, the signs of failure are already apparent. The original intent of the summit was to put world leaders on the spot . . . Instead, the leaders that came were let off the hook . . . [as] they are only expected to submit their proposals by March next year” before the next summit in Paris. Critics are ultimately demanding stronger state response to climate change, but have yet to see quantitative results.
International law, by nature, is often difficult to bridge with domestic law and environmental law, in particular, poses many enforcement challenges. For example, states are not necessarily required to enforce environmental protection law within their domestic jurisdiction unless they give credence to international environmental treaties. Furthermore, the limited use of judicial enforcement for international environmental law means that enforcement is problematic. Ultimately, the faulty enforcement of international law allows for the inconsistent implementation of environmental law reform.
This particular UN Climate Change Summit initially appeared to have a different tone from climate change conferences in the past. Attending states have affirmatively acknowledged the rising emissions levels and other environmental deteriorations and have vocalized the need for more stringent reform. For example, China pledged for the first time to take strong action against climate change as result of its emissions levels (the world’s highest) peaking in the near future. Yet, the recent crises of the rise of IS, tensions between Ukraine and Russia, and the West African Ebola epidemic have overshadowed the importance of environmental protections.
Despite the seriousness of these global events, the Summit was the largest meeting of world leaders on climate change. The aim is now for global leaders to reconvene in Paris in 2015 to assemble an agreement specifically addressing environmental concerns. Yet, when we look at the effectiveness of this year’s Summit, there is much to be desired in terms of a stringent framework specifically targeting environmental protection. Robert Orr, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Strategic Planning, stated that “[w]e now need a meaningful, universal climate agreement.” Such a climate agreement is the missing tool needed to enforce consistent and qualitative environmental protection standards.
Part of the issue regarding the global acceptance of environmental protection agreement involves states’ priority of having such a treaty. Wealthy nations that are ranked “very high” according to the UN Human Development Index have ranked environmental protection as number nine out of sixteen in a list of societal measures. Poorer nations ranked as “low” according to the UN Human Development Index have ranked environmental protection as last in a list of the same societal measures. These two statistics bring up worrying implications. First, wealthy nations still ranked environmental protection relatively low, indicating their sluggish interest in environmental preservation. Second, poorer nations are simply unable to afford the costly and intensive measures needed to reduce emissions. Ultimately, the disparity in wealth indicates the wide-ranging difference in environmental protection interest – those who can financially do something about the problem have no interest in doing anything.
Arguably, the best outcome for this Summit would have resulted in a stringent frameworks for pollution and emissions regulation agreed to by all participants. International environmental law, like many areas of international law, relies heavily upon the use of international convention, treaties and customary norms as a method of governance. This disconnect between priorities only further strengthens the argument that the global community as a whole must respond to climate change. Poorer nations simply cannot afford to alter their behavior to allow for environmental protections. Wealthy nations, however, have the capacity to not only develop their own environmental standards, but assist these developing nations in reforming their environmental policy. It is only through this wide-reaching commitment that environmental protection reform will occur.
Natalie Krajinovic is a University of Baltimore School of Law J.D. candidate (’15), with a concentration in Business Law. She holds an Honors Bachelor of Arts in English and East Asian Studies from the University of Toronto, St. George. Natalie has always had an interest in international law and policy. While studying at the University of Toronto, she was the Editor-in-Chief of the Toronto Globalist, an international relations magazine with chapters across the globe. She currently serves as the President of the International Law Society and as the Comments Editor for the Journal of International Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Natalie is also a law clerk for John H. Denick & Associates, P.A., a business law firm in downtown Baltimore.
 Laura Westbrook, Climate change summit: Global rallies demand action, BBC News (Sept. 21, 2014), http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-29301969.
 Rupert Darwall, The Air Comes Out of the Climate Change Talks, Real Clear Politics (Sept. 24, 2014), http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2014/09/24/the_air_comes_out_of_the_climate_change_talks_124087.html.
 Omar E. García-Bolívar, Lack of Judicial Independence and Its Impact on Transnational and International Litigation, 18 L. & Bus. Rev. Am. 29, 32 (2012) (citing John S. Baker Jr. & Agustín Parise, Conflicts in International Tort Litigation Between U.S. and Latin American Courts, 42 U. Miami Inter-Am. L. Rev. 1, 24 (2010) (“Countries are not compelled to enforce foreign judgments but do so as a matter of comity, which “[r]ests on the principle of reciprocity which is generally the basis for relations among sovereign nations.”).
 Ryan Crocker, Airstrikes on ISIS Should Expand to Syria, N.Y. Times (Aug. 22, 2014), http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/08/22/should-the-us-work-with-assad-to-fight-isis/airstrikes-on-isis-should-expand-to-syria.
 David M. Herszenhorn, Ukrainian President Sets Sights on Closer E.U. Ties, N.Y. Times (Sept. 25, 2014), http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/26/world/europe/petro-poroshenko-ukraine-eu.html?ref=world.
 After the Summit, planners look toward Lima, then Paris, Climate Summit 2014 (Sept. 25, 2014), http://www.un.org/climatechange/summit/2014/09/summit-planners-look-toward-lima-paris/.
 Brad Plumer, Why rich countries worry more about global warming than poor ones, Vox (Sept. 23, 2014), http://www.vox.com/2014/9/23/6835285/why-rich-countries-worry-more-about-climate-change-than-poor-ones.
 International Law: Cases and Materials 1486 (Lori F. Damrosch, et al. eds.) (5th ed. 2009).