Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues


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Global Warming, Climate Change, and the Kyoto Protocol

Jasmine Pope

Australia is known for many things: kangaroos, koala bears, whale watching, surfing, swimming with dolphins, and grilled shrimp on the barbie. But that’s not all it’s famous for: The Great Barrier Reef brings in hundreds of thousands of tourists to Australia every year. The Great Barrier Reef is considered to be one of the seven wonders of the natural world[1], was granted World Heritage status in 1981,[2] and is larger than the Great Wall of China.[3]  The reef consists of 300 coral cays, 600 tropical islands, and 3,000 individual reef systems.[4] But, the Great Barrier Reef is more than a tourist attraction or an economic resource: it’s a network of marine sanctuaries and, unfortunately, it is dying.[5]

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Global Warming and the Great Barrier Reef

In the past thirty years, the Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half of its coral cover, with global warming resulting in coral bleaching.[6] Coral bleaching is the loss of algae[7] and has affected more than 900 miles of the Reef.[8] Bleaching is a result of rising water temperatures, which have been exacerbated by man-made climate change.[9] Since 1998, bleaching has occurred four times (1998, 2002, 2016, 2017), but this latest bout of bleaching has demonstrated the shortest gap ever: one year. Just last year the Reef saw an unprecedented amount of coral bleaching. Approximately 67% of corals died in the worst-hit northern section in 2016.[10] Scientists are almost certain that the rising water temperature is a direct result of carbon emissions and climate change.[11]

The Kyoto Protocol and Climate Change

The Kyoto Protocol, based on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is a binding international agreement that sets emission reduction targets.[12] It was adopted in Japan on December 11, 1997 and entered into force on February 16, 2005.[13] The Kyoto Protocol sets binding targets for countries party to the agreement.[14] More than 150 years of industrial activity from developing countries is in large part responsible for the high levels of greenhouse gases.[15] The Kyoto Protocol requires countries to mainly use national measures to meet their targets. During the first few years , thirty-seven countries and the European community agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly all States have ratified the treaty with the exception of one big player: The United States.

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Many people view the Kyoto Protocol as being the first step towards combatting climate change.[16] Former President Bill Clinton called the Kyoto Protocol “environmentally strong and economically sound.”[17] But not everyone is convinced that the Kyoto Protocol has lived up to its expectations. The U.S. Senate voted 95-0 against the treaty and ultimately, in 2002, Former President George W. Bush withdrew the U.S. support from the deal deeming it “fatally flawed.”[18] Ultimately, Former President Bush was not wrong. Three major polluters of the world are free from the restraints of the Protocol: the United States, China, and India.[19]

What to Do?

The Kyoto Protocol was the first step, but it cannot be the only step. Scientists are warning us that the Great Barrier Reef is now “at a terminal stage – with large portions having no hope of recovery.”[20] The World Wildlife Fund-Australia is looking to not only halt the decline of species and the health of the ecosystem: they’re also looking to reverse it.[21] It is not a Sisyphean task for the corals to recover under normal conditions, but it would take decades. The coalition government in Australia recently announced that $18 million would be spent on six projects to improve and protect the Great Barrier Reef.[22] Jon Brodie, a water quality expert, called the $18 million package “small and unlikely to return any real gains.”[23] The Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce estimated that with would cost $8.2 billion for water quality targets to be reached by 2025.

Global warming is happening and this is not an alternative fact. We need to stop writing off climate change as an issue that the next generation can fix. The time to act has long since come and gone, but there is still a lot that we can do now. This damage is not completely permanent. If we take action now to decrease carbon emissions and greenhouse gases, we can work towards reversing a lot of the damage that has already been done and unfortunately time is not on our side.

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It is not enough to say that global warming and climate change are happening: steps beyond the Kyoto Protocol need to be taken. What those steps are? I’m not exactly sure. Maybe it is cooperation from multiple nations, donating money, and man power to protect and rehabilitate the Great Barrier Reef. Maybe it’s an international agreement dedicated solely to saving the Great Barrier Reef, as well other wonders that are in jeopardy. Maybe it’s simply more awareness on the issue and getting people to care. But one thing I am sure of is that if we don’t act now, it is possible that we could be the last generation to experience the wonder of the Great Barrier Reef.

Jasmine Pope is a second year law student at the University of Baltimore. She graduated from Towson University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science, with a minor in History. Jasmine is extremely interested in and passionate about international human rights, particular the rights of women and children. She also participated in the Summer Study Abroad Program in Aberdeen, Scotland. She has also studied abroad in Benalmádena, Spain. Currently, she serves as the Secretary for the International Law Society. Jasmine is currently a member of the Inter-American Human Rights Moot Court Team. Jasmine is also a Staff Editor for the Journal of International Law and works for the Law Office of Hayley Tamburello.

[1] http://www.greatbarrierreef.org/

[2] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-39524196

[3] http://www.greatbarrierreef.org/

[4] http://www.wwf.org.au/what-we-do/oceans/great-barrier-reef#gs.0Lc6RdQ

[5] http://www.wwf.org.au/what-we-do/oceans/great-barrier-reef#gs.0Lc6RdQ

[6] http://www.wwf.org.au/what-we-do/oceans/great-barrier-reef#gs.0Lc6RdQ

[7] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-39524196

[8] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-39524196

[9] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-39524196

[10] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-39524196

[11] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-38127320

[12] http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/items/2830.php

[13] http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/items/2830.php

[14] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/mar/11/kyoto-protocol

[15] http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/items/2830.php

[16] http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/items/2830.php

[17] http://www.climatechangenews.com/2015/02/16/kyoto-protocol-10-years-of-the-worlds-first-climate-change-treaty/

[18] http://www.climatechangenews.com/2015/02/16/kyoto-protocol-10-years-of-the-worlds-first-climate-change-treaty/

[19] http://www.climatechangenews.com/2015/02/16/kyoto-protocol-10-years-of-the-worlds-first-climate-change-treaty/

[20] https://futurism.com/scientists-announce-that-the-great-barrier-reef-is-officially-terminal/

[21] http://www.wwf.org.au/what-we-do/oceans/great-barrier-reef#gs.0Lc6RdQ

[22] http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2017/04/13/18-million-great-barrier-reef-projects-too-late-scientist

[23] http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2017/04/13/18-million-great-barrier-reef-projects-too-late-scientist


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Does the Paris Climate Summit have the Potential for a Real Response to Climate Change?

Natalie Krajinovic

In sum, yes. The Geneva Climate Conference in February 2015 saw the Member States of the United Nations aim to achieve positive environmental policy change. The Conference saw the UN make major headway with a formal draft agreement that would be the source of negotiation for the 2015 Paris Summit.[1] The formal draft agreement is a substantive step following general affirmations of climate reform policy made at the 2014 UN Climate Summit.[2] The UN seems poised to strengthen the world’s attention on environmental matters with this draft agreement. The draft agreement builds upon negotiations that occurred during the 2014 Lima Climate Change Conference. The final agreement, which includes a focus on “mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology and capacity-building,” is set to be reached in Paris at the end of 2015 and should come into effect in 2020.[3] What makes these environmental initiatives distinct from the UN’s past attempts at an environmental framework is the collective interest in reaching emission level reductions.

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The draft agreement currently states that the parties are “[g]ravely concerned by the IPCC’s [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] finding in its Fifth Assessment Report that it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”[4] This clear statement regarding the severity of the state of climate change demonstrates the UN’s seriousness in combating drastic environmental change. The draft agreement also states that the parties recognize “that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet and thus requires to be urgently addressed by all Parties.”[5] It is evident that even though the parties are still in negotiation stages, the occurrence of climate change is no longer debatable, and instead, is a reality that the international community must now confront.

Between March and June of this year, individual countries will articulate their emission reduction plans.[6] Once individual countries outline their targeted plans and efforts for emission reduction, the viability of the current draft agreement will be evaluated. Through this formal draft agreement, the hope is that the increase of the average global surface temperature is no more than 2 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels, to avoid dangerous climate change.[7] These aggressive targets mean that individual states must act nimbly with their individual responses to climate change. It is insufficient to rest upon general obligations of emissions reductions. Rather, now is the opportunity for Member States to announce specific and realistic environmental protection action.

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Article 2 of the draft agreement is purported to outline the objective of the convention. The viability of the current draft agreement may be undermined with the repeated language of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” in all three options for Article 2.[8] This emphasis on separate responsibilities based upon a Member State’s independent capabilities suggests that how emission levels will be reduced will not involve uniform action.

Although the agreement is still in the drafting stage, the global community appears to be gaining momentum in combating climate change. The goal is for the formal draft agreement to reach finalized content and text through the year, with negotiations occurring at the Climate Change Conference in Bonn in June, in addition ministerial-level meetings throughout the year.[9] This ongoing work towards a final formal environmental protection convention is promise that the 2015 Paris Summit will result in a viable agreement that unites UN member states in responding to climate change.

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 and is an intern with International Rights Advocates in Washington, D.C.

[1] UN agrees draft text for Paris climate summit, BBC News (Feb. 13, 2015), http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-31456369.

[2] Natalie Krajinovic, The Climate Summit 2014 – The Best of Intentions, But Missed the Mark, Ius Gentium (Sept. 28, 2014), https://ubaltciclfellows.wordpress.com/2014/09/28/climate-summit-missed-the-mark/.

[3] Governments Agree the Negotiating Text for the Paris Climate Agreement, UN Climate Change Newsroom (Feb. 13, 2015), http://newsroom.unfccc.int/unfccc-newsroom/governments-agree-the-negotiating-text-for-the-paris-climate-agreement/.

[4] Negotiating Text, Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, ADP 2-8, Agenda Item 3 (Feb. 12, 2015), http://unfccc.int/files/bodies/awg/application/pdf/negotiating_text_12022015@2200.pdf.

[5] Id.

[6] UN agrees draft text for Paris climate summit, BBC News (Feb. 13, 2015), http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-31456369.

[7] Id.

[8] Negotiating Text, Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, ADP 2-8, Agenda Item 3 (Feb. 12, 2015), http://unfccc.int/files/bodies/awg/application/pdf/negotiating_text_12022015@2200.pdf.

[9] Governments Agree the Negotiating Text for the Paris Climate Agreement, UN Climate Change Newsroom (Feb. 13, 2015), http://newsroom.unfccc.int/unfccc-newsroom/governments-agree-the-negotiating-text-for-the-paris-climate-agreement/.


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The Climate Summit 2014 – The Best of Intentions, But Missed the Mark

Natalie Krajinovic

The Climate Summit 2014 was held on September 23, 2014 at the UN Headquarters in New York City.

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.”[1] 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.[2]

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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.[3] 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.[4] Ultimately, the faulty enforcement of international law allows for the inconsistent implementation of environmental law reform.

Alternative renewable energy sources should be promoted in any new environmental protection 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.[5] Yet, the recent crises of the rise of IS,[6] tensions between Ukraine and Russia,[7] 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.[8] The aim is now for global leaders to reconvene in Paris in 2015 to assemble an agreement specifically addressing environmental concerns.[9] 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.”[10] Such a climate agreement is the missing tool needed to enforce consistent and qualitative environmental protection standards.

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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.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13] 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.

[1] Laura Westbrook, Climate change summit: Global rallies demand action, BBC News (Sept. 21, 2014), http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-29301969.

[2] Id.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.”).

[5] UN climate summit: China pledges emissions action, BBC News (Sept. 24, 2014), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-29334807.

[6] 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.

[7] 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.

[8] 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/.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] 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.

[12] Id.

[13] International Law: Cases and Materials 1486 (Lori F. Damrosch, et al. eds.) (5th ed. 2009).