Tag Archive | "climate change"

The Fight Against Climate Change: The Paris Agreement Ratified by 75 Countries

Graph prepared by James Hansen Makiko Sato from data collected by NOAA and NASA.

Graph prepared by James Hansen Makiko Sato from data collected by NOAA and NASA.

On October 5th the requirements were met for the Paris Agreement (PA) to enter into force. This milestone was triggered when more than 55 countries representing 55% of global greenhouse emissions (GHG) ratified the Agreement. The PA has had tremendous international public and private support following its adoption by the 197 Parties to the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris on December 2015. Within days of this announcement, the Earth’s atmosphere reached its own notable milestone. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a statement that for the first time in three million years, atmospheric levels of the heat trapping gas, carbon dioxide measured 400 ppm. The dramatic rise of CO2 levels is a considerable departure from the stable CO2 levels of 278 ppm that allowed for a comfortable climate for human life to evolve. NOAA noted that this change coincided with global deforestation and burning of fossil fuels in the 1850s and the 1950s respectively.

The PA seeks to mitigate increasing GHG emissions and cap global temperature rise well below 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) of pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5°Celsius. Through the PA, countries individually and voluntarily pledge Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to achieve this cap. Further, the PA calls for efforts towards adaptation of the impacts of climate change and provides a managerial vehicle for the investment needed for a sustainable low-carbon future. The PA will come into force on November 4, 2016 and will set into motion the first meeting of the governing body of the PA, the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement.

In November of this year, the CMA will meet at the Conference of Parties 22 (COP22) in Marrakech, Morocco. One of its tasks will be to ensure global commitments for the $5 to $7 trillion needed to support these efforts by 2020. $100 billion has already been pledged by developed countries to developing countries. The private sector is also playing a major role in these efforts investing billions of dollars to green markets. The collaborative efforts of both the public and private sectors towards accelerating GHG emissions is truly a remarkable moment in our world’s history.

Speaking the day that the 55% milestone was reached, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said, “Global momentum for the Paris Agreement to enter into force in 2016 has been remarkable. What once seemed unthinkable is now unstoppable.” For the sake of future generations, let’s hope that the global momentum to reduce emissions overtakes ever increasing heat trapping gases.

Entry into force of the PA is no doubt timely, given both milestones. With no peak of carbon emissions in sight and with ever increasing and severe weather events, the money and effort put in by public and private entities is certainly needed to adapt to the effects of our changing climate and to develop sustainable methods for future generations.

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The Marshall Islands: Human Rights, Climate Change, & Zero Emissions


The Marshall Islands disappearing into the sea

Indigenous people living on the Marshall Islands have a grim history and are facing a potentially grim future. The Marshallese peoples were displaced due to nuclear testing in the past and are confronting the threat of relocation due to climate change in the future. Sitting mere feet above sea level, the Marshall Islands are a group of 24 atolls with just over 1,500 islands, and a population near 70,000 people. The islands are at risk of complete submersion due to rising sea levels as a direct result of climate change. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates they will see a three foot rise in the sea level by 2100, while other estimates are as high as six feet. The rapid effect of climate change already occurring on the islands along with the risk of losing their homeland has propelled the government into immediate action.

The Marshallese are the first peoples from a developing nation to go beyond the mere slowing of carbon emissions straight into a commitment to completely cut them altogether. They plan to cut emissions by nearly half by 2030, and to zero by the year 2050. They intend to accomplish this through the use of sustainable technology by relying entirely on solar energy. The plan is to completely solarize the islands and build their economy through deals with large companies, using ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC). Hydrogen is produced through solar energy. By completely replacing fossil fuels, the Marshall Islanders are leading the way in the worldwide objective to slow global warming.

As the Marshallese get to work, the rest of the world is watching more than following their strategies. Part of the problem many nations face in reaching these goals is the result of their much larger populations. The Marshall Islands have fewer people to provide with energy, making it easier for them to accomplish these objectives in a shorter length of time. In addition, the Marshall Islanders do not release anywhere near the amount of carbons as the developed nations.

While Kiribati has already purchased land in Fiji in case they are forced to relocate, President Loeak plans to tough it out and fight to save their homeland. Because natural disasters are becoming more frequent on the islands, they are also making plans to expand the land area that is being swallowed by the sea as well as creating long-term disaster plans.

The Marshall Islands are not the only nation threatened by climate change; the entire world will suffer if we do not reduce carbon emissions and slow global warming. The Marshall Islands cannot turn this around alone. As such, other nations are feeling the pressure to match their goals. The push to do more to reverse climate change is increasing because the human rights of the indigenous peoples on the islands are at stake. The Islanders are once again at risk of losing their lands, lives, and culture  if the rest of the world does not quickly do their part. As the largest emitters of carbons, it is up to the developed nations to make serious efforts to reverse the damage we are creating. At base, our continued contribution to the environmental disaster faced by the Marshallese people is not much different than the nuclear testing that resulted in the islanders losing their homelands in the past.

Bernadette Shetrone is a 3L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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North America Soil Moisture Projection Graphic

Critical Analysis: Reframing Climate Change

In November of 2014, The Group of Twenty (G20) met in Brisbane Australia to discuss the state of the global economy.  Global growth, climate change, and tax avoidance were among the major issues discussed.  The Australian delegation contested the inclusion of a statement on the climate which is reflective of the recent repeal of their own national carbon tax.  The current Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has stated that “we can’t pursue environmental improvements at the expense of economic progress.”  Prime Minister Abbott’s statement reflects a major obstacle to climate change mitigation worldwide.

While public statements may purport otherwise, many policymakers treat carbon taxes, carbon markets, and regulatory regimes as obstacles to economic development.  Framing the issue in this binary fashion reflects the shortsighted attitude that has been pervasive for decades.  The world’s economic leaders need to adopt a radically different perspective and re-conceptualize climate change as an impending environmental disaster.

North America Soil Moisture Projection Graphic

Photo Credit: NASA.gov

The international dialogue on climate change began in the late 1980’s and arguably took a foothold at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro.  While international efforts like the Kyoto Protocol have received widespread support, implementation of climate reforms have not done enough to mitigate climate change.

At a press conference on November 2nd, 2014, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon urged leaders to act, otherwise the opportunity to meet the international target of 2º C “will slip away within the next decade.”  The temperature target of 2°C represents what many consider to be the tipping point for global climate change.  First set as a target by the European Union in 1996, the 2°C target was adopted in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord.

The issue of climate change cannot be confined to environmental impacts.  In 2006 the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change asserted, “climate change presents a unique challenge for economics: it is the greatest example of market failure we have ever seen.”   In 2013, speaking at the world economic forum in Davos, Lord Stern indicated that his 2006 predictions may have been underestimated with “some of the effects . . . coming through more quickly than we thought.”

The unaccounted cost of carbon emissions are predicted to have a dramatic impact on the environment, economy, and development.  A recent study by NASA suggests that if emissions continue at their current trajectory, the North American continent will very likely experience a ‘megadrought’ that could last up to 40 years.  The human and economic impacts of such a severe, sustained drought would be catastrophic.

While some leaders, like Prime Minister Abbott, view environmental impact as a secondary concern to economic development (if at all), the economic consequences of not altering the current carbon trajectory will be far worse than investing in change now.  Governments need to remove climate change from the back burner, do away with rhetoric, and illusory research and development projects.  Climate change needs to be treated like any other natural disaster should be – swiftly and decisively.

Jordan Edmondson is a 3L law student at University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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The Climate is Changing too Fast for a Purely Environmental Perspective to Remedy the Changes


The IPCC reports that financial and economic views must also be taken.

As the Paris Convention for a new climate change regime approaches in 2015, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (“IPCC”) release of the final volume of their Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change on April 15, 2014, is important in shaping the negotiations. The gist of their findings is that climate change must be viewed from financial and economic perspectives, in addition to environmental viewpoints, to effectively mitigate climate change because the problem is of unique global scale. That is, “economic efficiency and equity” must also be accounted for. The authors of the report, Working Group 3, research and suggest climate change mitigation solutions and policies.



The IPCC’s statement will be crucial at the Paris Convention in 2015 because the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (“UNFCCC”) utilizes the IPCC as an authority on climate change data. At the 2013 Warsaw Conference, the UNFCCC parties discussed financial and economic solutions to climate change. The Conference aimed to “keep[] governments on a track towards a universal climate agreement in 2015.” Public climate finance pledges to help developing nations came from countries including the European Union, Finland, Germany, Japan, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Financial mechanisms included facilitating loans between countries, clean development mechanisms, and creating large carbon markets. The Green Climate Fund Board should start its “initial resource mobilization process” to get more money from developed countries before 2015. What exactly constitutes “climate finance” is disputed.

With respect to economic perspectives, the parties acknowledged that they need to figure out solutions for poverty eradication and better account for the needs of developing countries. The Climate Technology Centre and Network is one such mechanism as it responds to developing countries’ requests for technology transfer and assistance from developed countries so they can address climate change. This is intended to help developing countries “leapfrog” over using older technologies that emit more greenhouse gases and utilize cleaner, more efficient technologies that developed countries have already created. Significant mitigation action is possible in developing countries where populations are rapidly urbanizing and moving into cities, which implicates a growing need for “governance, technical, financial, and institutional capacities.”

2015 Paris Convention

In context of the 21st Conference of the Parties in 2015, the UNFCCC parties will convene with the goal of drafting a new climate change regime that hopefully gets universal support from developing and developed countries. Some of the goals include:

  • Decisions “to initiate or intensify domestic preparation for their intended national contributions towards that agreement, which will come into force from 2020”
  • “[C]lose the pre-2020 ambition gap by intensifying technical work”
  • “[E]stablish an international mechanism to provide most vulnerable populations with better protection against loss and damage caused by extreme weather events and slow onset events such as rising sea levels”

Climate Change

Working Group III’s research findings have been released in the IPCC’s reports on climate change mitigation solutions and policies.

Climate change has been of international focus since about 1979 when it was declared “an urgent world problem.” In 1988, General Assembly Resolution 43/53 declared that it is a “common concern of mankind.” Through various treaties like the UNFCCC, parties to the treaty acknowledged that human activity largely contributed to climate change. Since the late nineteenth century, the global temperature has warmed about 0.85 degrees Celsius. It was not until 2009, that the Copenhagen Accord stated that the global temperature cannot exceed two-degrees Celsius. What’s more is that the IPCC anticipates human activity to remain largely unchanged, and thus, the global temperature will probably go beyond the two-degree goal before the 21st century is over. Therefore, solutions to mitigating climate change must be broadly based on environmental, economic, and financial approaches.

As the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, stated after the Warsaw Conference, “We have seen essential progress. But let us again be clear that we are witnessing ever more frequent, extreme weather events, and the poor and vulnerable are already paying the price.” Thus, the involvement of all governments is necessary, and the IPCC report will be important in grounding country involvement. The 2015 Convention “will mark a decisive stage in negotiations on the future international agreement on a post-2020 regime.”


Jaclyn Cook is a 3L and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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smart grid survey

Smart Grid: How the International Community Is Combatting Climate Change (Part 3 of 3)

This is the final blog post in a series of three blog posts proposing that the Smart Grid is a possible contributing remedy to fighting global climate change.  This post addresses potential obstacles and developments of the Smart Grid within the United States, the European Union, and China and touches on international collaborations amongst those three countries.  The first blog in this series provided context about global climate change in general and detailed what the Smart Grid is.  The second blog in this series analyzed the Smart Grid on a more country-specific level and discussed how the United States, the European Union, and China define and value the Smart Grid. 


Part III: International Obstacles and Developments

Smart Grids are gaining global traction.[1]   This provides room for collaboration and capitalization on country strengths.[2]  U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel B. Poneman has stated that top greenhouse gas emitters like the United States (“U.S.”) and China have a common duty to remedy climate change and secure alternative energy sources.[3]

Generally, national legal frameworks like the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, federal stimulus money, and utility-driven initiatives “to add value and increase system efficiencies” have supported U.S. Smart Grid developments whereas Smart Grid deployment in the European Union (“E.U.”) significantly depends upon “policy mandates to meet environmental and climate goals” and China’s Smart Grid development has hinged upon significant state funding from the State Grid Corporation of China.  Nonetheless, Smart Grids are progressing despite being a part of the notoriously slow-changing electrical industry.

8 i's of intelligent grids

The 8 ‘I’s’ for Intelligent Grids (VAASA ETT)

These three countries have strengths that have the potential to benefit the global development and adoption of Smart Grids.  For an audio account of U.S. strides in the Smart Grid from the 2013 U.S. Smart Grid Year in Review webinar held on December 5, 2013, click here.  China’s smart meters are anticipated to be half the price of those in the U.S. and E.U.  This price difference is largely “attributable to cheaper labor and installation costs, shorter meter life span, no import taxes and lower transportation costs, and use of power line communications, which require few changes to existing transmission infrastructure.”  The E.U.’s deregulated market suggests more grid automation than in the U.S., which may promote more rapid smart meter deployment.

The U.S., the E.U., and China also face similar obstacles with respect to Smart Grids, which make collaboration with each other, and the greater international community, beneficial to further domestic and global climate change progress.  Because most of the Smart Grid’s key components already exist, “better communication, coordination, and incentives for consumers, power suppliers, and government agencies” are more important than expending resources to make the technologies more advanced.  Problems include increased electricity bills, implementation cost recovery, and job loss and shortages.

Specifically, consumer expectations and education regarding energy present a universal obstacle in consumer acceptance of the Smart Grid.[4]  U.S. consumers have evolved to meld the concept of luxury with “profligate waste.”[5]  Similarly, China, as a developing country, may be more concerned with economic growth, and the increased consumerism and pollution that result from urbanization, than being environmentally sound.  As a developing country, the focus tends to be on economic growth at the expense of environmental degradation.  However, some scholars hypothesize that once that country becomes more industrialized, the environment will become more valuable and protected.[6]

Generally, science has demonstrated that humans have an innate tendency to over-consume, rather than conserve, to attract mates and reproduce.[7]  Perception shifts of energy from a public good to a valuable resource[8] are essential to energy efficiency being a viable solution to global climate change.  Daniel Yergin advocates that conservation and energy efficiency should “become ‘part of our DNA.’”  He described that Japan is a global energy efficiency leader because of its “deep-seated cultural value of ‘mottainai’, which translates as ‘too precious to waste.’”  As a solution, the U.S., the E.U., and China have been addressing consumer education with respect to the Smart Grid, but some criticize the E.U. and U.S. as inadequately reaching out to consumers.

smart grid survey

Over the course of 2013, consumer attitudes regarding the Smart Grid in the U.S. have increased

This year, it is estimated that smart meters in the United Kingdom have motivated a significant number of consumers to become more energy efficient.  Also, as of December 2013 in the U.S., consumer awareness of the Smart Grid has increased despite the low energy prices and stability of the grid.  Regrettably, these two factors generally decrease consumer motivation to adopt energy efficient measures.

Privacy of Smart Grid-generated data is also problematic because Smart Grid technologies are capable of giving utilities and third parties access to more detailed energy data.  For example, in Kyllo v. United States, in order to substantiate a search warrant, police used a thermal imaging device from outside of the defendant’s home to detect amounts of heat emitted from inside the home, which were consistent with lamps typically used for growing marijuana.[9]  In a 2014 Smart Grid Cybersecurity Survey of energy executives, a majority considered the Smart Grid unprepared for security-related problems.  “The challenge is upon the entire smart grid ecosystem, from suppliers to [original equipment manufacturers] to utility companies to regulators and even to consumers, to embrace a concerted security direction and efficiently protect these advancements,” said Scott Emley, SMART Modular Technologies VP & GM, Integrated Memory Solutions.

E.U. privacy laws are comprehensive because one regime applies to different industries whereas, in the U.S., various sectors enforce unique standards.  China is considered devoid of streamlined energy decision-making.[10]  In the U.S., Naperville Smart Meter Awareness v. City of Naperville is a recent district court decision where plaintiffs unsuccessfully alleged that the city violated their right to be free from unreasonable searches pursuant to the Fourth Amendment when installing smart meters onto their homes.[11]

In light of these common obstacles regarding the Smart Grid, the U.S. and China have made significant collaborative efforts to promote Smart Grid developments.  Under the China-U.S. Ten Year Framework for Energy and Environment, they began Smart Grid-related projects.  In 2012, the United States Trade and Development Agency sponsored a meeting between China’s National Energy Administration and the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to exchange “standards and policy, distribution, generation, state-of-the-art applications, communications, and control and management systems.”  In 2013, China and the U.S. entered agreements to exchange Smart Grid research[12] and inspire other countries to similarly confront climate change.[13]

Smart Grid proliferation varies depending upon a country’s existing grid, economy, and regulatory system, but the U.S., the E.U., and China will benefit from exchanging best practices, expertise, and technological insights to further promulgate Smart Grids.  According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, “the fundamental drivers of the smart grid – greater grid reliability, further integration of renewable energy, and improved demand-side management – are stronger than ever.”  Without global collaboration, however, the efforts of each country on a domestic and international level will be “sapped.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirms that the climate is warming at deleterious rates largely because of human activity.  International agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol have stressed that all countries have a common responsibility to mitigate climate change, but in ways based on their unique economic and social situations.  Smart Grid development and deployment contributes to that common responsibility because the Smart Grid enables cleaner, less fossil fuel-based energy sources to be integrated into the electrical grid and increases energy efficiency and conservation, which all decrease the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.  Therefore, collaborative Smart Grid efforts have strong potential of making a positive impact on assuaging the criticalness of global climate change.


Jaclyn Cook is a 3L and a staff editor for the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

[2] Lynn Garner, China State Grid Corp. President Calls Smart Grid Crucial for Continued Growth, BNA, Jan. 19, 2011, http://climate.bna.com/climate/summary_news.aspx?ID=153000.

[3] Id.

[4] Michal Meidan, Philip Andrews-Speed & Ma Xin, Shaping China’s Energy Policy: Actors and Processes, Journal of Contemporary China 615 18(61) (2009).

[5] Avi Brisman, It Takes Green to Be Green: Environmental Elitism, “Ritual Displays,” and Conspicuous Non-Consumption, 85 N.D. L. Rev. 329, 355 (2009).

[6] Id.

[7] Richard J. Lazarus, Super Wicked Problems and Climate Change: Restraining the Present to Liberate the Future, 94 Cornell L. Rev. 1153, 1175 (2009).

[8] Meidan, supra note 4.

[9] Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27, 34 (2001).

[10] Joel B. Eisen, China’s Renewable Energy Law: A Platform for Green Leadership?, 35 Wm. & Mary L. & Pol’y Rev. 1, 6 (2010).

[11] Naperville Smart Meter Awareness v. City of Naperville, 11 C 9299, 2013 WL 1196580 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 22, 2013).

[12] Garner, supra note 2.

[13] Anthony Adragna, U.S.,China Announce New Working Group To Promote ‘Forceful’ Climate Change Action, BNA, Apr. 15, 2013, http://climate.bna.com/climate/summary_news.aspx?ID=235708.

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The Smart Grid: How the International Community is Combating Climate Change (Part 2 of 3)

This is the second blog post in a series of three blog posts proposing that the Smart Grid is a possible contributing remedy to fighting global climate change.  This post analyzes the Smart Grid on a more country-specific level and discusses how the United States, the European Union, and China define and value the Smart Grid.  The first blog in this series provided context about global climate change in general and detailed what the Smart Grid is.  The final blog in this series will address potential obstacles and developments of the Smart Grid within the United States, the European Union, and China and will touch on international collaborations amongst those three countries.


Part II: What “Smart Grid” Means in the United States, the European Union, and China

 No global definition of Smart Grids exists,[1] but the basic concept is universal. One scholar has defined Smart Grids as “electricity system[s] that [use] information technology (IT) to connect those who generate and transmit electricity with those who consume it.”  The United States (“U.S.”), the European Union (“E.U.”), and China share similar developmental rationales, which include increasing energy capacity, reliability, efficiency, affordability, security, and global competitiveness; decreasing energy-related environmental impacts; and integrating renewable energy into the grid.[2]  With those considerations in mind, the U.S. and the E.U. most similarly define the Smart Grid, and China has a slightly different perspective.

United States

Currently, the U.S. electrical grid is centrally planned and fossil fuels predominantly feed it.[3]  The utility controls the process in a centralized manner when providing electricity to consumers.  One way the grid becomes “smart” is when appliances and electricity meters on homes and businesses become digital allowing for two-way interactive communication between utilities and consumers.  Therefore, electricity generation becomes distributed from multiple energy sources, which is more efficient.  Additionally, the Smart Grid includes “a broad array of electric system capabilities and services [that are] enabled through pervasive communications and information technology, with the objective to improve reliability, operating efficiency, resiliency to threats, and our impact to the environment.”

European Union

smart meter

A household uses a smart meter to view their energy consumption (Hugh Nutt/Alamy)

The E.U. also has a centrally planned grid where fossil fuels dominate.[4] The E.U.’s Smart Grids Task Force (“SGTF”) defines the Smart Grid as “an electricity network that can cost efficiently integrate the behaviour and actions of all users connected to it – generators, consumers and those that do both – in order to ensure [an] economically efficient, sustainable power system with low losses and high levels of quality and security of supply and safety.”  It also focuses on the dynamic communication between consumers and utilities through “intelligent metering and monitoring systems.”  Smart Grids in the U.S. and E.U. rely upon smart meters to achieve energy efficiency.


Similar to the U.S. and E.U., China’s Smart Grid refers to “an intelligent system capable of seamlessly integrating” alternative, renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, into the electricity grid.  The State Grid Corporation of China (“SGCC”) describes Smart Grids as delivering more reliable and powerful electrical transmission and distribution to the whole countryChina’s National Climate Change Programme defined its “intelligent system” as “DC transmission technology and super high voltage transmission technology and equipment, grid transmission and distribution technology for intermittent power sources[,] . . . large-scale interconnected grid security technology[,] . . . grid management automation technology, [an] information technology and efficient management of supply and distribution system[,]” and phasing out technology that is inconsistent with new and enhanced energy efficiency standards.


Motivations for Adopting the Smart Grid

As top emitters and energy consumers, the U.S., the E.U., and China have strong motivations for adopting the Smart Grid and have already implemented some of its components, like the smart meters.

United States

 The current grid’s primary function is to ensure lights stay on, but modern concerns include reliability, efficiency, affordability, and the environment.  The U.S. is the world’s largest energy consumer, and in 2009, energy from fossil fuels totaled more than 50% of energy consumption while renewables made up about 9%.  Also, the U.S. represents about 4% of the global population, but emits nearly a quarter of its greenhouse gases.  Based on 2014 data, the U.S. population hovered over 318,000,000, and its 2011 electricity consumption per capita was 13,246 kWh compared to 3,298 kWh in China and 5,516 kWh in the United Kingdom.

Thus, President Barack Obama suggested clean energy would compose 80% of the U.S. energy mix by 2035.  He proposed increasing clean energy production twofold by 2020 while encouraging energy efficiency[6] and confronting climate change.  The U.S. strives to use Smart Grids “to reduce energy demand by 20 percent, improve system efficiency by 40 percent, and incorporate 20 percent of renewables for electricity capacity by 2030.”


Clean energy is slowly gaining ground in the U.S.

Smart Grids began in the U.S. around 2001.  Congress enacted the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (“EISA”), which declared the U.S.’s modernization of its electrical transmission and distribution, to address these new concerns in the form of the Smart Grid.  EISA established the Smart Grid Task Force “to insure awareness, coordination and integration of the diverse activities” of Smart Grid practices, policies, and technological components.  EISA also directed each state’s electric utilities and other related entities to consider investing in and implementing the Smart Grid.  Thus, states could require utilities to implement aspects of the Smart Grid.  For instance, some utilities must replace obsolete residential meters with smarter, digital ones.  EISA directed the National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”) to organize the Smart Grid’s interoperability framework to ensure consistency of all related entities and technologies.

In 2005, there were about 150 million traditional energy meters in the U.S., but less than two million were “smart.”  In 2009, President Obama injected $3.4 billion into the Smart Grid Investment Grant awards for system investments, trial implementations, and capacity building.  Private industries matched this funding making for a total of $7.8 billion.  Estimates now suggest that by 2015, 50 million more smart meters will be implemented.  A few states, like California7 and Maryland, have already widely implemented smart meters.  Many cities have Smart Grid projects.


European Union

In 2006, the European Community (“the Community”) recognized a need for energy efficiency and renewable energy to assuage energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, and climate change effects, and to help wean the Community from reliance on foreign energy sources.  Nuclear and coal dominated the electricity energy mix.[7]  Therefore, the Community enacted the energy end-use efficiency directive to achieve those needs.  The directive stated that human activity in the energy sector had caused around 78% of greenhouse gas emissions in the Community, and therefore, Member States were required to “adopt national indicative targets to promote energy end-use efficiency.”  Additionally, the directive required each Member State to complete an action plan outlining strategies for satisfying the directive.

In 2009, the European Commission first mentioned smart meters in a mandate for establishing E.U. standards “that [would] enable interoperability of utility meters (water, gas, electricity, heat), which [could] then improve the means by which customers’ awareness of actual consumption [could] be raised in order to allow timely adaptation to their demands.”  In the Third Energy Package, the Community specifically addressed Smart Grids in efforts to modernize its electrical distribution system by decentralizing generation and increasing energy efficiency.  This directive described that implementing smart meters to 80% of the E.U. by 2020 was the most pivotal stride for Smart Grids.

The European Commission tasked the SGTF with advising it on policy and regulations to implement Smart Grids at the community level.  The SGTF organized expert groups that considered creating and revising standards, creating proposals for smart meter data privacy, and defining regulatory recommendations for business models that encourage grid deployment.

In 2011, the European Commission mandated E.U. standardization organizations to improve upon and create Smart Grid standards by 2012’s end.  This mandate recognized that Smart Grids are essential to the Community achieving its 20/20/20 targets.  The targets are: (1) reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the E.U. to a minimum of 20% under 1990 levels, (2) reducing “primary energy use compared with projected levels” by 20% using energy efficiency measures, and (3) “guaranteeing high security, quality and economic efficiency of electricity supply in an open market environment.”

The Energy Roadmap 2050 reiterated these goals in light of a “sustainable and secure energy system.”  A smarter grid promotes energy efficiency and integrates renewables, which are more intermittent in generation than fossil fuels.  It also makes the E.U.’s goal of reducing emissions to 80-95% of 1990 levels by 2050 more attainable.



China is the world’s second largest energy consumer and strives to be a global contender in all respects, which includes being the alternative energy leader.[8]  With the world’s largest population at 1,317,000,000, China’s electricity consumption per capita in 2011 was 3,298 kWh.  One of the government’s goals is lowering “energy consumption per unit of GDP by 15 percent” by 2015.  Also, the Renewable Energy Law of 2005 stated a goal of a 10% renewables mix by 2020.[9]  Because China derives most of its power from coal and its electricity meters are “relatively low” quality, China is motivated to transition into cleaner energy.  Complicating the shift is that Chinese citizens are rapidly migrating from the country to cities, which increases energy demand threefold.

In 2007, the Chinese government pledged to “make great efforts to develop new and renewable energy technologies and new technologies of energy conservation” in China’s National Climate Change Programme (“CNCCP”).  The CNCCP envisioned elements of the Smart Grid.  Also, China’s 2007 Energy Conditions and Policies report enunciated some grid-related goals that have Smart Grid implications: modernizing the grid, increasing energy efficiency and energy conservation, strengthening power transmission and distribution, creating “emergency response system[s] for power safety and reliability,” enforcing the Renewable Energy Law, and enhancing rural grids.

In its Twelfth Five-Year Plan, the government committed itself to developing “intelligent power grids” and performing system trials.  The SGCC established a strategy for creating and implementing Smart Grids by 2020:

  • 2009-2010 – The planning and testing phase included creating a development plan, “technical and operational standards,” technology, and trial implementations.
  • 2011-2015 – Smart Grid framework for actual operation will be created and, after technological improvements occur, the Smart Grid will be deployed countrywide.
  • 2016-2020 – The Smart Grid will be upgraded and completed “with [the] most advanced technology and equipment.”  By 2016, China is expected to have implemented 280 million smart meters.

In 2009, SGCC, the “largest State-owned utility” company worldwide, declared its intention to construct a grid that is strong and smart by 2020.  China has at least 15 city demonstration projects.  In 2010, a Chinese power company implemented various Smart Grid technologies into one smart community that included 655 homes and 11 commercial buildings.

The highly centralized structure of China’s government allows for faster policy development and implementation.  Smart Grids have enabled local governments to exercise more power over their respective regions by investing in local Smart Grid projects.  As a byproduct of China accomplishing its goal of providing strong energy countrywide, its electrical distribution and transmission system must necessarily become efficient in order to sustain that increased energy demand.

As of 2014, investments in Smart Grid technologies globally totaled $14.9 billion.  China leads the pack having spent $4.3 billion in 2013 compared to the U.S. at $3.6 billion.  Estimates state that currently China has over two times as many installed smart meters as the number of U.S. households.  Also, “Asian and European markets will drive growth through 2020, while in North America the focus will continue to shift from hardware to software as utilities look to squeeze additional value out of the vast amounts of grid data now available.”

The U.S., China, and the E.U. have acknowledged their present and future energy needs and are taking measures to ensure that their people have electricity.  However, their adoption of environmental policies and Smart Grid initiatives demonstrate that they are also taking the environment into account.  As energy efficiency technologies like the Smart Grid continue developing, the larger benefits remain to be seen through collaborative technology transfer between countries.


Jaclyn Cook is a 3L and a staff editor for the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

[1] Mariusz Swora, Intelligent Grid: Unfinished Regulation in the Third EU Energy Package, 28 J. Energy & Nat. Resources L. 465, 466 (2010).

[2] Litos Strategic Commc’n, The Smart Grid: An Introduction 7-8 (2008), available at http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/oeprod/DocumentsandMedia/DOE_SG_Book_Single_Pages(1).pdf; EU Comm’n Task Force for Smart Grids, Expert Group 1: Functionalities of Smart Grids and Smart Meters 22 (Dec. 2010), available at http://ec.europa.eu/energy/gas_electricity/smartgrids/doc/expert_group1.pdf.

[3] Miranda A. Schreurs, Henrik Selin & Stacy D. VanDeveer eds., Transatlantic Environment and Energy Politics: Comparative and International Perspectives 151 (2009).

[4] Swora, supra note 1.

[5] See Jaclyn Cook, The Smart Grid: How the International Community is Combating Climate Change (Part 1 of 3), The View from Above (Feb. 25, 2014), URL to Part I (describing smart meters).

[6] Richard Cowden, Obama, Congress Could Work Together on Pragmatic Energy Efficiency Programs, BNA, Feb. 15, 2013, http://www.climate.bna.com/climate/summary_news.aspx?ID=231636.

7 Pacific Gas & Electric, Getting Your SmartMeter Device, http://www.pge.com/en/myhome/customerservice/smartmeter/installation/index.page (last visited Jan. 31, 2014) (installed around 9.5 million smart meters); San Diego Gas & Electric, Smart Meter Deployment Metrics, Q1 2013 January 1, 2013 – March 31, 2013, http://www.sdge.com/residential/about-smart-meters/smart-meter-deployment-metrics-0 (last visited Jan. 31, 2014) (installed about 2.2 million smart meters).

[7] Schreurs, supra note 3, at 148.

[8] Joel B. Eisen, China’s Renewable Energy Law: A Platform for Green Leadership?, 35 Wm. & Mary L. & Pol’y Rev. 1, 1 (2010).

[9] John Copeland Nagle, How Much Should China Pollute?, 12 Vt. J. Envtl. L. 591, 613 (2011).

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smart meter diagram

The Smart Grid: How the International Community Is Combating Climate Change (Part 1 of 3)

This is the first blog post in a series of three blog posts proposing that the Smart Grid is a possible contributing remedy to fighting global climate change.  This post provides context about global climate change in general and details what the Smart Grid is.  The second blog post discusses the Smart Grid on a more country-specific level and analyzes how the United States, the European Union, and China define and value the Smart Grid.  The final blog post will address potential obstacles and developments of the Smart Grid within the United States, the European Union, and China and will touch on international collaborations amongst those three countries.


Part I: Climate Change and Smart Grid

“Tomorrow’s power systems are expected to cover an increasing demand for electricity in an affordable, sustainable and reliable way. New elements like highly distributed generation or a much closer interaction between consumers and generators will contribute, but require innovative solutions across traditional industry borders.” – Jochen Kreusel, Head of ABB’s Smart Grids Industry Sector Initiative

The international community is undoubtedly in consensus that climate change is occurring and the earth is warming largely due to human actions.  In fact, since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 most nations recognize the need to collaborate on how to stabilize global greenhouse gas emissions.  Many countries, including the United States (“U.S.”), the European Union (“E.U.”), and China, have agreed that all countries have “common but differentiated responsibilities” in remedying climate change that differ based on their economic and social environments and historic and present generation of emissions.  Top emitting countries, like the U.S., the E.U., and China are adopting strategies, like the Smart Grid, to become more energy efficient and reduce energy consumption.[1]

power plant in china

Wujing Thermal Power Plant, Shanghai — China has earmarked $45 billion for Smart Grid technologies (AP/Eugene Hoshiko)

The Smart Grid’s dynamic nature allows for intermittent alternative energy sources to be more easily integrated into the traditional, existing electricity grids.  As countries consider shifting away from fossil fuel-based energy to renewable energy sources, Smart Grids use digital, interactive technology that allows integration of renewable energy into the grid to be used as power.  Because renewable energy is “virtually [a] free” energy source, renewables are considered a threat to the traditional grid, which is regarded as rigid and unreliable in an era where electricity demand is only increasing.[2]  By using less energy, consuming energy more efficiently, and integrating more renewable, lower emission energy sources into the grid, the Smart Grid is a promising component in the international community’s fight against climate change.


What is the “Smart Grid”?

No universal definition of “smart grid” exists, but the general concept is widely accepted.[3]  One U.S. energy company, Xcel Energy, has an illuminating definition.  To Xcel, the Smart Grid is “an intelligent, auto-balancing, self-monitoring power grid that accepts any source of fuel (coal, sun, wind) and transforms it into a consumer’s end use (heat, light, warm water) with minimal human intervention.”[4]

Using the U.S. as an example, the dominant electric grid, which was developed in the 1890s, is centralized and an electricity provider controls it.  The provider, through its system operators, must match generation of electricity with demand on an almost minute-by-minute basis.  It is a one-way, utility-to-consumer process.

By contrast, the grid becomes “smart” as a result of “the digital technology that allows for two-way communication between the utility and its customers, and the sensing along the transmission lines.”  Smart Grids are premised on integrating renewable energy sources into the grid and increasing energy efficiency, which means less energy will be used and the energy that is used will come from clean, fossil-fuel free sources.  Therefore, Smart Grids have a positive effect on climate change because they reduce emissions that contribute to global warming.

Powered by “today’s twin challenges” of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in an electricity hungry world,[5] Smart Grid development is largely based on the need to integrate renewable sources of energy into the grid and mitigate effects that emissions have on climate change.[6]  The Smart Grid attacks the challenges by also promoting energy efficiency, which has been called “the fifth fuel.”  It attempts to provide energy that is more reliable and more efficient.

smart meter diagram

This diagram from Siemens illustrates how renewable energy may be integrated into a household

For example, electricity companies would be better able to detect power outages and prevent wide-scale blackouts because the Smart Grid’s electric system is digital and can communicate with the digital meter on one’s home.  In short, the company response time to such situations would be faster.  We live in an age where electrical grid failures, and resulting blackouts, are alarmingly common and more and more consumers continue burdening the grid with their voracious appetite for electronics.  So, the Smart Grid’s responsiveness to consumer needs makes energy more reliable.

A Critical Component: the “Smart Meter”

The Smart Meter is one of the key devices that allows the Smart Grid to increase the two-way communication between a utility company and the consumer that is characteristic of the Smart Grid.  In contrast to analog meters that attach to the outside of most U.S. homes, “smart” meters are digital.  Therefore, they allow for the grid to be responsive to fluctuating energy prices and supply and demand as those changes occur in real time.  This is significant because they have the potential to decrease “the high cost of meeting peak demand” and render peak power plants unnecessary.  Removing these power plants, which typically use fossil fuels, undoubtedly helps mitigate climate change.

Using an energy management system, home residents may view their smart meter data and electrical consumption information on personal computers or cellular phones.  The system enables residents to automate their energy usage according to “real-time information and price signals from [their] utility” so they only run their high-efficiency dishwashers or washing machines, for example, during times prices are low.  These types of household appliances (e.g., refrigerators, hair dryers, computers, washing machines) represent about 60-90% of energy consumption in the residential sector so this dynamic communication is essential to delivering cost-effective, reliable, and energy-efficient electricity to consumers.[7]  In the U.S., the number of consumers checking their energy usage on mobile devices has increased and these devices are crucial in engaging consumers as the Smart Grid gains more traction in 2014.


Currently, U.S. technology is capable of measuring the power in kilowatt-hours of specific devices within homes.  So, in gathering home energy data, smart meters may be capable of exposing one’s personal details.  The meter may reveal data, called consumer-specific energy-usage data, about when the occupant is not home, whether one has a home alarm system, or whether one is toasting bread in the morning.  More detailed consumer usage data benefits the Smart Grid because if electric companies know exactly how much energy specific appliances need, then they are better able to meet a household’s electrical demand.  This data also allows consumers to program their appliances to turn on when energy is the cheapest.

Presently, however, the “state of the art, in terms of the granularity of data collected by utilities using advanced metering, cannot yet identify individual appliances and devices in the home in detail, but this will certainly be within the capabilities of subsequent generations of Smart Grid technologies.”  Nonetheless, as the smart meter develops to reach its full potential for consumers and utilities, it will necessarily have to detect specific appliances being used at specific times of day for specific amounts of time.[8]  The Smart Grid’s success depends upon this real-time consumer electricity data.

The Smart Grid is the 21st Century’s electricity grid.  Our society is increasingly more interactive, dynamic, and digital in nature so an electrical grid that also possesses these characteristics is only fitting.  The global population is increasing, and the U.S, the E.U., and China make it clear that countries are taking action to ensure their present and future generations have access to clean, efficient, and reliable electricity.


Jaclyn Cook is a 3L and a staff editor for the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.


[1] See e.g., Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, H.R. 6, 110th Cong. 110-140 (2007), http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-110publ140/pdf/PLAW-110publ140.pdf; Directive 2006/32/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 April 2006 on Energy End-Use Efficiency and Energy Services and Repealing Council Directive 93/76/EEC, OJ 2006 L 114/64, available at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2006:114:0064:0064:en:pdf; China’s Twelfth Five Year Plan, http://cbi.typepad.com/china_direct/2011/05/chinas-twelfth-five-new-plan-the-full-english-version.html.

[2] Greenpeace Says Smart Grid Could Help E.U. Meet Most Needs From Renewables by 2050, BNA, Jan. 19, 2011, http://climate.bna.com/climate/summary_news.aspx?ID=153003&hhterm=U3RlcGhlbiBHYXJkbmVy&hhtype=QWxsV29yZHM%3D.

[3] Mariusz Swora, Intelligent Grid: Unfinished Regulation in the Third E.U. Energy Package, 28 J. Energy & Nat. Resources L. 465, 466 (2010).

[4] Xcel Energy, Xcel Energy Smart Grid: A White Paper 2 (2008), available at http://www.e-renewables.com/documents/Smart%20Grid/Xcel%20Energy%20Smart%20Grid.pdf.

[5] Edward H. Comer, Transforming the Role of Energy Efficiency, 23 Nat. Resources & Env’t 34, 34, (2008).

[6] Xcel Energy, supra note 4.

[7] Cheryl Dancey Balough, Privacy Implications of Smart Meters, 86 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 161, 166 (2011).

[8] Nat’l Inst. of Stds. & Tech., Guidelines for Smart Grid Cyber Security: Vol. 2, Privacy and the Smart Grid 12 (2010), available at http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/nistir/ir7628/nistir-7628_vol2.pdf.

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Putting a Price on Carbon

This July, Australia abandoned its plans to implement a carbon tax. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stated that the reason was to reduce the burden on consumers and small businesses. This news would seem to suggest that Australia wanted to avoid the repercussions of reducing carbon dioxide emissions; however, the tax was instead replaced by a market-based trading system (cap and trade) a full year ahead of schedule. Prime Minister Rudd called combating climate change “the greatest moral challenge of our time.” Australia’s scheme is just one example of the growing movement towards a global carbon market. While the Kyoto Protocol provided a framework for carbon trading, many regional systems have emerged in recent years. The success of these markets has varied, and creating a unified global market represents a huge potential both in economic and environmental terms.

smokestacks of a power plant

Power plants are just one contributor of carbon pollution (Audubon)

Both a carbon tax and carbon trading scheme create incentives to reduce CO2 emissions. A carbon market differs from a tax in that there are a limited number of credits or allowances for CO2 emissions and the market determines the cost thereof. A fundamental feature is that an overall reduction target limits the total amount of permitted emission. The Kyoto Protocol included the basis for a trading scheme to allow countries a mechanism to meet their obligations under the treaty. It has been largely ineffective due to the surplus of credits available as well as the U.S. not participating, Japan withdrawing, and China’s exemption. One of the most prominent carbon markets in the world is the E.U. Emissions Trading Scheme, which also suffers from an abundance of carbon allowances. A coordinated, global effort is needed to address the economics of carbon emissions.

Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can disrupt the carbon cycle for between 500 and 1000 years if left to natural processes. Because every region of the world contributes to CO2 emission, and once in the atmosphere, CO2 pollution from one region is indistinguishable from another, and because the impact is so far removed in time from the source of emission, it is entirely impossible for the free market to curb CO2 emissions without a cost imposed on such emission. A carbon market may provide incentives to reduce emission commensurate with the ambitiousness of overall carbon reduction, but it does not provide an accurate price for removing existing CO2 from the atmosphere. Carbon removal technologies are an assumption built-into many climate models which project that they are crucial to remaining below the 2°C threshold identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Atmospheric carbon removal will need financial backing and a profit-motive if they are to be viable.

Several technologies show potential in reducing atmospheric CO2. Direct carbon capture from the flue of sources like power plants is available but expensive with a high parasitic energy level. Alternatives are gaining ground: a combined CO2, SO2, NOx system with a net carbon reduction now exists for ships, artificial trees are currently being tested and scaled to larger sizes, while afforestation and biochar uses vegetation to disrupt the carbon cycle. Converting CO2 to calcium carbonate is also a potential method of sequestering CO2 rather than pumping it back into wells for enhanced oil recovery. New technology for cement production makes efficient use of such calcium carbonate (in addition to avoiding CO2 emission typical of ordinary cement production).

President Obama recently outlined his plan for combating climate change, and creating a viable carbon market through tax or other means that would recognize the long-term impact and costs of CO2 pollution and create opportunity for innovation and job growth, not to mention make alternative energy more appealing financially. Several Republican former administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency just endorsed such approach in an op-ed to the New York Times. Although CO2 pollution is a global issue that needs to be addressed at the international level accordingly, the initiative can begin domestically.


Alex Milgroom is a 3L at the University of Denver and the Online Editor-in-Chief of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Critical Analysis: Environmental Threats to Human Security and International Law’s Response

Coping with climate change will be one of the most significant challenges the global community will face in the coming years. (The ICJ Project)

Coping with climate change will be one of the most significant challenges the global community will face in the coming years. (The ICJ Project)

International Law Weekend-West was held the weekend of February 2nd at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.  The conference addressed a number of issues that should be on the forefront of the minds of all international lawyers who seek to address threats to human security.  The first panel’s topic (“Environmental Threats to Human Security and International Law’s Response”) dealt with a contentious issue not often associated with threats to human security: climate change.  This panel had three speakers; two focused specifically on the effect deforestation will have on human security, and the third speaker broadened the perspective to address how climate change will impact society as a whole.

The first speaker, Professor Richard Finkmoore of California Western School of Law, explained that deforestation must be stopped because (1) it will exponentially increase the effect of total climate change on the human race through increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and (2) it will reduce the world’s capability to compensate for the increase in the GHG emissions.  Deforestation not only affects the globe through an increase in the amount of carbon released through burning, but also because forests are among the world’s best carbon sinks and carbon reservoirs.  According to Professor Finkmoore, forests absorb one-third of all GHG emissions that come from the fossil fuel sector; it is estimated that the forests store twice as much GHG as is currently in the atmosphere.  Therefore, if the forests are burned not only will the globe be less able to absorb the carbon, but a vast amount of additional carbon emissions will occur, thereby accelerating the rate of climate change.  Consequently, Professor Finkmoore argues, the focus should shift from reducing the world’s dependence on fossil fuels to ensuring that the forests all over the world are not burned down.

Given the strong effect deforestation will have on climate change, the next logical question is what the international legal community is doing to address the issue.  The second panelist, Professor Annecoos Wiersema of the University of Denver, addressed one of the legal initiatives proposed to address deforestation.  This international initiative is called RED+, or the  Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Degradation and the Role of Conservation Sustainable Management of Forests and Enhancement of Forest Carbon Sinks.  RED+ resulted from discussions that began when Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea raised the idea as a suggestion to reduce climate change and protect their forests.  However, despite the promising name of RED+ there is still much to be done before it can actually be implemented.  The primary drawback to RED+ is that it is a very comprehensive and technical initiative, which means development is difficult and implementation will take a long time.  Current RED+ discussions are focused on how RED+ should actually be implemented, with the two primary options being either through an international regulatory framework or through national volunteer efforts.  Consequently, the legal framework to address deforestation and the implementation of RED+ is still in the beginning stages.

Given the uncertainty of RED+ implementation, the last speaker, Dr. Anita Halvorssen of the University of Denver, broadened the scope of the issue to address the impacts climate change will have on human security, specifically focusing on human security risks due to migration from fast and slow onset climate changes.  Under current refugee laws, people who immigrate are not granted refugee status unless they fled their home countries in response to specific fears of persecution.  Immigration as a result of climate change is not sufficient to receive refugee status.  Consequently no legal framework exists to address the issue of human security and the consequences of migration as a result of climate change.  Therefore, Dr. Halvorssen argued, the laws need to be modified or a new legal framework must be developed to address this emerging group of migrants who lack legal protection.

The panel discussion stressed the need for greater understanding of the relationship between human security and climate change.  These fields of law are becoming ever more important as the climate continues to change, and international lawyers would be wise to take an increased interest in these issues and the means to address them.

Katelin Knox is a 2L and a staff editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Climate Change: Is There Hope for an International Response?

Nearly 200 world nations launched a new round of talks in Doha to review commitments to cutting climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions. (Global Post)

Was Hurricane Sandy the result of global warming?  Many scientists are reluctant to directly attribute this and other recent superstorms to global warming.  However, it is very likely effects from climate change are influencing the severity of these storms.  With the scientific world approaching a consensus that human activity is contributing to climate change, pressure is mounting on the international community to respond.

Delegates, nongovernmental organizations, and environmentalists from over 200 countries are currently converging at the United Nations climate-change summit in Qatar to debate the issue.  The underlying goal of the conference, ending on December 7, is to slow global warming, specifically to “pave the way toward a world treaty, to be signed in 2015, aimed at slowing global emissions of heat-trapping fossil-fuel pollution enough to keep the planet’s temperature from rising by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).”  Scientists fear a sustained increase above two degrees Celsius will lead to a chain reaction of extreme events, such as rapid sea level rise, widespread flooding, extreme weather, and food shortages.

However, skepticism surrounds the summit.  For one, ongoing global temperature increase is feared to be all but certain.  A recent study funded by the National Science Foundation concluded that “[d]espite efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, global warming and a greater increase in sea level are inevitable during this century.”  Also, the summit’s goal of extending the 1997 Kyoto Protocol appears to be losing ground.  The treaty, which expires at the end of 2012, is the only legally binding U.N. pact addressing global warming.  It calls on wealthier governments to limit carbon emissions through restrictions on their businesses and citizens.  However, the U.S. declined to ratify the original treaty, and now others – including Russia, Canada, and Japan – are unlikely to sign the extension.

While the effect of the U.N. summit is currently in doubt, it should be noted that many individual countries are taking domestic action to reduce their contribution to climate change.  For instance, Mexico adopted a national law to reduce carbon emissions by thirty percent from “business-as-usual levels” by 2020, and fifty percent from the 2000 levels by 2050; South Korea approved a mandatory carbon trading program affecting some of its biggest polluters; and the European Union recently put into effect a program to reduce carbon pollution from aviation.  As for the United States, fuel efficiency standards were sharply improved under the Obama administration, and the President has expressed plans to adopt a more proactive approach to global warming during his second term.

However, climate change is a global issue requiring an international response.  Unfortunately the U.N. summit in Qatar appears unlikely to produce immediate results. The only hope is that it will lay a foundation for future cooperation and resolutions.

Frank Lawson is a 4LE and Board Member on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy


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