Harro van Asselt, Professor of Climate Law and Policy
THE PAST few weeks have been remarkable for the evolution of international climate law. A month ago, the Paris Agreement obtained the required ratifications both in terms of the number of countries and their share of global greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, the Paris Agreement will come into effect on 4 November 2016. Its Parties will convene for the first time next week in Marrakesh, Morocco. The entry into force of the Paris Agreement and the first meeting of its Parties are major steps forward for international climate law and policy under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
BUT IMPORTANT developments have also taken place elsewhere. In early October, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) reached agreement on a global mechanism to offset aviation emissions from 2020 onwards. This decision was taken against the backdrop of rapidly growing global aviation emissions. While not perfect, the new ICAO offsetting mechanism represents important progress after years of stalled negotiations.
FINALLY, ON 15 October 2016 an important new amendment was adopted to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). These are highly potent greenhouse gases used mostly in air conditioning and refrigerators. Without new regulatory measures, it was feared their emissions would grow, posing a serious threat to climate change mitigation efforts. Indeed, it has been estimated that if implemented, the Montreal Protocol amendment will slow down global warming by up to 0.5 degrees Celsius in the next few decades.
THESE THREE developments are undoubtedly all significant milestones in the evolution of international law on climate change. Just a few years ago the prospects for all three agreements looked gloomy, and the recent developments thus show that countries are increasingly prepared to use international law as an instrument to tackle climate change.
HOWEVER, LOOKING more closely, they also demonstrate that international climate law inhabits an increasingly complex legal and regulatory space with several sites of governance. Moreover, there is a growing emphasis on both national discretion and procedural obligations. The effects these shifts will have in practice will greatly depend on the level of implementation. Critical analysis by the academic community will be needed to understand the relevance of these developments for climate law and governance, and for environmental law more broadly.
AGAINST THIS backdrop, we are launching this CCEEL blog to create a new forum for a critical debate on current developments in climate, energy and environmental law. In this first blog post, we offer a snapshot of our activities in the field of climate law. Future posts will focus mainly on substantive issues and will be published approximately twice a month. In addition to the climate law activities introduced here, CCEEL participates actively in research on, inter alia, international energy law and these activities will be covered in future posts.
MANY OF us at CCEEL are closely following the global climate change negotiations and regularly participate in the UNFCCC process. We also frequently consult various organizations on international climate law and policy. Recent examples include several reports on negotiations for the Paris Agreement and the Agreement’s implementation prepared for the Finnish Ministry of the Environment.
OUR RESEARCH covers both general aspects of the evolution of the UN climate regime, as well as the regime’s various substantive dimensions. Some of our most recent publications discuss the Warsaw Framework to reduce deforestation through REDD+, climate finance after the Paris Agreement, and options for the enhanced transparency framework of the new treaty.
THE SCOPE of climate law is, however, much broader than the UN climate regime, and our research examines to which extent other international legal regimes can contribute to, or distract from, efforts to tackle climate change. Recent research by CCEEL staff specifically analyses efforts to address sectoral greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation and shipping through the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Maritime Organization as well as interlinkages between climate change, ozone depletion and air pollution. Another important topic for climate policy and for our research concerns links between international trade law and climate law, including in the context of the World Trade Organization. Our activities are not, however, confined to the international level, but we are also actively following developments related to climate law in the European Union and in Finland.
THE CCEEL also has various research activities related to short-lived climate pollutants. The White project is looking at their regulation in the Arctic region, including how they are being addressed by the Arctic Council. In January 2017, we will be launching a new interdisciplinary research project ClimaSlow, funded through a 5-year grant by the European Research Council. Through this project, we will be looking at ways to strengthen the regulation of short-lived climate pollutants in key developing countries, including China, India and Nepal.
THE INTIMATE link between climate change and energy issues is also reflected in CCEEL’s research activities. We have recently studied links between climate law and renewable energy law in a special issue of Climate Law, guest-edited by CCEEL staff. Moreover, we are interested in examining the international regulation of energy subsidies, and in particular fossil fuel subsidies. Related to this, we are exploring the extent to which – and under which conditions – international institutions can help steer countries away from fossil fuel production.
WITH THIS introduction, we welcome all our students, researchers and the broader climate and environmental law community to follow our blog and engage in interactive discussion through comments.
UPCOMING BLOG POSTS AT CCEEL BLOG
- Rainforests in the Paris Agreement: Old Wine, New Bottles? – Eugenia Recio, PhD Candidate, CCEEL, UEF Law School
- Regulation of Short-Lived Climate Pollutants in the Arctic: Interim Outcomes of the White Project, Dr Yulia Yamineva, Postdoctoral Researcher, CCEEL & Dr Sabaa Khan, Postdoctoral Researcher, CCEEL
- Relevance of the Paris Agreement for International Environmental Law – Prof. Harro van Asselt and Prof. Kati Kulovesi
This post has also been published at CCEEL Blog at CCEEL website.