Tag Archive | "climate change"

Source: CNBC

Trouble in the Arctic?

Source: CNBC

Source: CNBC

The Arctic, a region that proved elusive to explorers for centuries, is now more important than ever. As ice thaws and the Arctic warms at a rate twice that of the global average,[1] international interest and attention in the region has piqued. The combination of natural resources, potential new trade routes, and strategic interests holds the possibility of shifting international dynamics, for better or worse.

Though relations in the region have been peaceful thus far, the prospect of resource and territorial disputes could turn contentious. In order to avoid conflict in the Arctic, the international community must continue to work as a whole, reaffirming the conventions and treaties that have been largely responsible for facilitation of peace in the region thus far. However, even if the Arctic remains emblematic of accord and international cooperation, continued development of the region may still serve to perpetuate power discrepancies worldwide, as nations with deep pockets buy influence.

This paper will address the increasing importance of the Arctic, beginning with the history of exploration and the role of climate change in current exploration. It will then outline the various international doctrines and agencies responsible for establishing guidelines concerning Arctic governance. Next, primary motivations for exploration will be outlined. These include the presence of natural resources, improved trading opportunities, and advanced strategic interests. The paper will consider the various implications that could result from increased Arctic development, both good and bad. It concludes by presenting policy considerations, arguing for the creation of oversight bodies and inclusive platforms for discussion.

I. The Arctic in Context

A. Historical Background

The Arctic has an extensive exploratory past. By the 16th century, European exploration of the region was well underway.[2] Finding a Northwest Passage that could allow for more efficient trade between Europe and Asia was the driving force behind Arctic exploration.[3] Though expeditions through the Arctic proved dangerous, exploration persisted.[4] By the end of the 19th century, as a result of this continued exploration and warming temperatures, the Northwest Passage was revealed.[5] As polar ice continues to melt, the Northwest Passage and the Arctic itself have become increasingly accessible.

B. The Role of Climate Change

Since 1979, the length of the melt season for Arctic sea ice has grown by 37 days, with ice now beginning to melt 11 days earlier and refreezing 26 days later than it used to, on average.[6] In August 2012, sea ice extent[7] reached its lowest level since satellite observations began in 1979.[8] It is estimated that within the next 25 years, the Arctic will have iceless summers.[9] As the ice continues to thaw at an accelerated rate, access to new trading routes, fishing grounds, and significant deposits of oil, gas, and minerals will become available. The irony of this is that climate change has played an integral role in opening the Arctic up for business opportunities capable of furthering climate change.

200-120 dumps II. International Law and the Arctic

Currently, various international conventions and councils determine the ways in which countries interact with one another and the Arctic. The Arctic Council is the preeminent intergovernmental forum used to address Arctic issues.[10] The council is consensus-based and addresses issues pertaining to sustainable development, the environment, and scientific cooperation in the Arctic Region.[11] It is comprised of 14 members who possess Arctic territory: Canada, Russia, Denmark, Norway, the U.S., Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and six permanent groups that represent the indigenous peoples of the Arctic.[12] States and entities that lack Arctic territory but have interests in the region are able to gain a limited observer status within the council.[13]

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is also important in providing a framework for Arctic relations.[14] UNCLOS is an international agreement, which 167 parties have signed onto.[15] It establishes guidelines and a “legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out.”[16] While the U.S. recognizes UNCLOS as customary international law, 648-244 dumps is not a party to the convention.[17]

In addition to the Arctic Council and UNCLOS, there are various other sources that contribute to the framework of governance in the Arctic Region, including the Svalbard Treaty, the North Atlantic Coastguard Forum, and the Conference of the Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region.[18] Each addresses maritime relations or the development of the Arctic more specifically.[19]

III. Why is Exploring the Arctic So Important?

A. Natural Resources

The abundance of natural resources is a primary factor contributing to increased international interest in the region. It is estimated that as much as 30% of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil is located in the Arctic Circle.[20] UNCLOS gives members exclusive rights to natural resources found within 200 miles of their coastlines.[21] If a country wishes to make any additional claims that fall outside of this 200-mile demarcation, they must prove the seabed is physically connected to their country, thereby ensuring that the only nations able to extract Arctic resources are those who possess Arctic territory.[22] In this way, UNCLOS plays a role in limiting potential resource exploitation. However, because UNCLOS grants exclusive rights to the member states, member states are fairly unrestricted in the ways they can develop their Arctic territory, potentially creating room for harmful environmental practices. Many Arctic countries have begun planning initiatives relating to natural resource exploration, and Russia leads with the proposal of nearly 250 potential Arctic projects.[23]

Although non-Arctic countries are prevented from physically claiming territory in the region, countries with deep pockets and ambition can assert influence in other ways. China’s ambition is being pursued in exactly this way, as the nation finances Arctic scientific research, projects, and negotiating free-trade agreements with Arctic countries.[24] The problem is that much of the world lacks the capital to fund Arctic development in the way China has begun to. This prevents many nations from asserting any influence in the region, despite the ways in which such development will impact the global environment and economy.

B. New Trade Routes

The prospect of shorter shipping routes is key to understanding the increase in Arctic interest, largely because of the effect such routes would have on global trade. The Arctic could provide faster and more direct routes between Asia, Europe, and America.[25] Three trading routes are key to this prospect: the Transpolar Sea Route, the Northwest Passage, and the Northern Sea Route.[26] While each of these routes is only accessible seasonally without the use of an icebreaker,[27] the rapidly changing climate in the Arctic means it is only a matter of time until the routes become viable for longer periods. Most recently, on January 26, 2018, China announced its intention to work cooperatively with other nations to develop shipping routes through the Arctic.[28] China vocalized the importance of ensuring that every country has rights to use the potential shipping routes.[29]

C. Strategic Positioning

A third reason for the increased interest in the region is the potential for utilizing Arctic terrain as a means of advancing strategic interests. As a result of escalating anxieties with Russia, Finland is currently considering joining NATO[30] and in 2017 Sweden reintroduced a military draft.[31] This increasing tension and the possibility that Russia could become surrounded by NATO member nations is one potential explanation for Russia’s involvement in Arctic activities. Russia is a unique state, possessing an Arctic border that spans a whopping 4,000 miles.[32] Russia could be playing defensive geopolitics in the Arctic, rather than offensive in an attempt to protect its borders. Likewise, U.S. Arctic strategy could be a prioritization of the same goals. In January 2017, Defense Secretary James Mattis described the Arctic as “key strategic terrain,” encouraging the development of a comprehensive strategy, especially in light of Russia’s increased activity in the region.[33]

IV. The Future of Arctic Impact on the Globe

The effect that Arctic development will have on the future of international relations is anything but clear. The multiple motivations for getting involved in the region contribute to a plentitude of potential outcomes.

A. The Good

The best-case scenario is that future relations in the Arctic remain emblematic of peaceful international cooperation, largely as they are now. The possibility of nations working together to further develop efficient Arctic trade routes could help facilitate unprecedented international partnership. This could help improve diplomatic relations and further the advancement of the global economy.

B. The Bad

The worst-case scenario is that Arctic development contributes to escalating global tensions. The fast-paced nature of today’s world leaves room for dramatic shifts in international relations to occur overnight. As countries assert territorial claims and extract natural resources, nations’ interests may run counter to each other. This type of contention has already presented itself. Take the Northwest Passage, for example. Canada claims the passage constitutes internal waters, while the U.S. asserts the water is an international strait.[34] Beyond just internal disputes, the amount of natural resources available in the Arctic region may lead to resource extraction that further denigrates the environment at the will of a small handful of countries. An increased volume of shipping through new passages and pipeline installation for oil extraction will increase the likelihood of accidents and spills.[35] The possibility for this outcome is only further exacerbated by the remoteness of the region, potentially preventing adequate monitoring of economic and geopolitical activity.

Perhaps most concerning is the fact that, even under the most optimal outcomes, conversations concerning the future of the Arctic center on only a few global players. Huge portions of the world will find themselves unable to participate or compete in this new emerging market. Lacking an authoritative voice in this debate, many nations will not have their interests adequately represented in a region that will certainly affect the world as a whole. In this way, the future of the Arctic will unavoidably contribute to even more obvious and detrimental global power imbalances. This limiting nature of the Arctic is a problem, as nations with Arctic territory and nations with big money are the only ones able to claim a stake in the region. In this way, the Arctic may play a crucial role in cementing harmful power dynamics, speaking loudly to the aphorism, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

C. What Now?

There is an opportunity to develop additional policy and law that address Arctic development and promotes positive outcomes for the global community. For one, Arctic Council members should explore the possibility of creating a watchdog body for the council, tasked with observing and monitoring action in the region in order to spot harmful activity. Additionally, the formation of such a body could play a beneficial role in facilitating constructive relationships and alleviating tensions among member states.

The international community should also work more purposefully at taking into consideration the voices and concerns of non-Arctic nations, lacking the ability to assert monetary or political influence in the region, yet likely to be impacted by Arctic development. One potential way of accomplishing this would be to work within the confines of UNCLOS by creating a separate committee represented by UNCLOS member states. This would provide a platform for discussion, where member states could express their concerns with Arctic development and articulate changes they would like to see. Because so many countries have signed onto UNCLOS, working within its constraints is an efficient way to have the voices of many nations heard and potentially propel future policy initiatives that are more reflective of all member states.

V. Conclusion

The Arctic is a dynamic region of critical importance. It has the potential to affect both the present and future of the globe, in positive and negative ways. The combination of regional exploration and climate change has culminated in the high stakes environment we see today—one where the prospect of abundant natural resources, more efficient trading routes, and the ability to advance strategic goals has piqued the interests of many. In continuing to develop the Arctic, measures should be taken to guarantee that the environment and international relations are supported. In order to ensure future international cooperation and inclusion of all concerned, the Arctic must be developed in strategic and tempered ways.

Payton Martinez is a Staff Editor with the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy, and a 1L at the Sturm College of Law.


[1] Tim Koivurova, The Dialectic of Understanding Progress in Arctic Governance, 22 Mich. St.  Int’l L. Rev. 1, 1-21 (2013).

[2] Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst., The Arctic: Exploration Timeline, Polar Discovery (2006), http://polardiscovery.whoi.edu/arctic/1594.html.

[3] Id.

[4] Greg Miller, These Maps Show the Epic Quest for a Northwest Passage, Nat’l Geographic (Oct. 20, 2016), https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/10/northwest-passage-map-history/.

[5] Id.

[6] Climate Change Indicators: Arctic Sea Ice, U.S. Env’t Prot. Agency (2016), https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-arctic-sea-ice.

[7] See generally Nat’l Snow & Ice Data Center, https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/quickfacts/seaice.html (last visited Jan. 27, 2018) (defining extent as a measurement of the area of ocean where there is at least some sea ice).

[8] Nat’l Snow & Ice Data Center, http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/2012/09/arctic-sea-ice-extent-settles-at-record-seasonal-minimum/ (last visited Jan. 27, 2018)

[9] Eric Roston, How a Melting Arctic Changes Everything, Bloomberg (Dec. 29, 2017), https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2017-arctic/the-economic-arctic/.

[10] Evan Bloom, Establishment of the Arctic Council, 93 Am. J. Int’l Law 712, 712 (1999), https://2009-2017.state.gov/documents/organization/212368.pdf.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Joseph F.C. DiMento, Environmental Governance of the Arctic: Law, Effect, Now Implementation, 6 U.C. Irvine L. Rev. 23, 23-60 (2016).

[14] See generally U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, opened for signature Dec. 10, 1982, 1833 U.N.T.S. 397 (entered into force Nov. 16, 1994), available at http://treaties.un.org/doc/publication/UNTS/Volume%201833/v1833.pdf.

[15] The U.N., United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform – the United Nations, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/topics/oceans/unclos (last visited Jan. 27, 2018).

[16] Id.

[17] DiMento, supra note 13, at 33.

[18] Id. at 42.

[19] Id. at 42-44.

[20] Donald L. Gautier et al., Assessment of Undiscovered Oil and Gas in the Arctic, 324 Science 1175, 1175-79 (2009).

[21] Koivurova, supra note 1, at 11.

[22] Id.

[23] Roston, supra note 9.

[24] Id.

[25] China to Develop Arctic Shipping Routes Opened Up by Global Warming, BBC News (Jan. 26 2018), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-42833178 [hereinafter China to Develop Arctic].

[26] Shane C. Tayloe, Projecting Power In The Arctic: The Russian Scramble for Energy, Power, and Prestige In The High North, 8 Pepperdine Pol’y Rev. 1, 1-19 (2015).

[27] Id. at 8.

[28] China to Develop Arctic, supra note 25.

[29] Id.

[30] Reid Standish, Wary of Russia, Finns take another look at NATO, Politico (Oct. 30, 2017), https://www.politico.eu/article/finland-russia-nato-wary-finns-take-another-look/.

[31] Colin Dwyer, Sweden Brings Back the Draft, Alarmed by Russian Activities, NPR (Mar. 2, 2017), https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/03/02/518116191/sweden-brings-back-the-draft-alarmed-by-russian-activities.

[32] Tayloe, supra note 26 at 6.

[33] Paul Watson, A Melting Arctic Could Spark a New Cold War, Time (May 12, 2017) http://time.com/4773238/russia-cold-war-united-states-artic-donald-trump-barack-obama-vladimir-putin/.

[34]William Y. Kim, Global Warming Heats up the American-Canadian Relationship: Resolving the Status of the Northwest Passage under International Law, 38 Canada-U.S. L.J. 168 (2013).

[35] DiMento, supra note 13, at 26.

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Photo Credit: Dr. Kevin E. Trenberth

The Science Behind Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events

Photo Credit: Dr. Kevin E. Trenberth

Photo Credit: Dr. Kevin E. Trenberth

The environment in which all storms form has changed owing to human activities.”

– Dr. Kevin E. Trenberth, Distinguished Senior Scientist

What is the science behind climate change? What explains Category 5 hurricanes? Dr. Kevin E. Trenberth, Distinguished Senior Scientist in the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), offered his perspective on these questions in his recent talk at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.[1]

Dr. Trenberth obtained his Sc. D. in meteorology in 1972 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[2] He was a lead author of the 1995, 2001 and 2007 Scientific Assessment of Climate Change reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, which went to the IPCC.[3]

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) established the IPCC in 1988.[4] The IPCC’s principal function is to provide policymakers with scientific bases for climate change, as well options for adaptation and mitigation.[5] Hundreds of experts contribute to the information needed to understand climate change in the IPCC reports.[6] The IPCC’s reports underlie negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).[7] The Conference of the Parties (COP) meets annually to review the UNFCCC’s implementation and to adopt instruments ensuring its effective implementation.[8]

Dr. Trenberth acknowledges that the data on changes in the climate are of 700-802 mixed quality and length.[9] However, taken together, the data tells a compelling story about the extent of the human role in climate change.[10] Today, research on climate change demonstrates that 97 percent of “actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”[11]

 Observable Changes in Climate

What have observed in terms of climate change since the Industrial Revolution? There is an increase in carbon dioxide and in the planet’s temperature.[12] Glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising.[13] Artic sea ice areas are decreasing, with 2012 as the lowest on record, which is denoted in the lowest point in the graph by NCAR below.[14]

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) takes satellite images of artic sea ice.[15] According to their animated time series, the 2017 photograph below reveals less artic sea ice than the1979 photograph.[16] Further, according to the most recent IPCC report in 2014, “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent 70-246 anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.”[17]
































 Scientists use observations and theoretical models to understand changes in the climate. Key observable measures include the Global Surface Temperature and Ocean Heat Content. In the following sections, these measures are defined and analyzed.

Global Surface Temperature

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a temperature anomaly signifies a departure from a specific reference value.[18] Reference values allow for a more accurate representation of temperature patterns within regions.[19] A positive anomaly indicates an observed temperature warmer than that reference value.[20] A negative anomaly reflects an observed temperature cooler than that reference value.[21] The global temperature anomaly provides a measure based on average global temperatures compared to a specified reference value.[22] The global surface temperature is based on land surface and sea surface temperatures.[23]

If you look at the graph below, this measure reveals an overall upward trend (see black line across the graph) with 2016 as the warmest year on record.[24] In 2016, there was a 1.2 degrees Celsius rise above pre-industrial levels.[25] The international community set a goal through the Paris Agreement (2015) to keep the global mean surface temperature increase below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.[26] Government policies and actions must be directed at maintaining the global surface temperature to reach the Paris goal.[27]













Ocean Heat Content

The Earth’s energy imbalance drives the ongoing global warming and can best be assessed from changes in Ocean Heat Content.[28] Ocean Heat Content measures the heat stored in the ocean. It is measured from the surface of the ocean to 700m, which reflects the 1967 to 2002 measures, and from the surface to 2000m, which reflects 2003 to present.[29] If the ocean absorbs more heat than it releases, the Ocean Heat Content increases. According the graph below, the ocean heat content has been increasing since the 1990s, with 2017 as the warmest year on record.[30]

Further, natural variability is the element of uncertainty in climate changes within a certain range because the components of the climate are never in perfect equilibrium.[31] Climate scientists are therefore interested in deviations from that natural variability to explain other causes of climate change. Natural variability, according to Dr. Trenberth, is a lot less for Ocean Heat Content than for global mean surface temperature.[32]












Climate Models

 In addition to the measures above, climate scientists can run models to assess differences in global surface temperature in the absence of an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.[33] For Dr. Trenberth, these models demonstrate that around the 1960s and 1970s, global warming emerged from the noise of natural variability.[34]

Extreme Weather Events

What explains hurricanes such as Harvey, Irma, and Maria? Hurricanes are natural, but they are intensified because of changes in the climate.[35] According to Dr. Trenberth, hurricanes feed off the sea temperatures.[36] When the ocean warms, water from the surface of the ocean then evaporates to cool the ocean, adding warm moist air, or vapor, into the atmosphere.[37] Rising air condenses the water vapor, which produces strong updrafts, drawing in more air.[38] The updraft creates clouds that lead to thunderstorms.[39] Then air spirals into the thunderstorm at the bottom and then out at the top.[40] The storm strengthens and strong surface winds increase evaporation, rainfall, and energy into the storm.[41]

For Dr. Trenberth, the increase in Ocean Heat Content results in evaporative cooling, which releases additional moisture into the atmosphere.[42] That moisture results in heavy rain that releases latent heat.[43] That heat is redistributed by winds and can radiate.[44] The moisture from an evaporating ocean gives fuel to hurricanes, creating an extreme weather event.[45] For example, if we look at Hurricane Harvey, the total rainfall, which was 140.7 mm, or 4.65´1020 J of latent energy in rainfall, matches the amount of Ocean Heat Content lost after the hurricane.[46] Therefore, Dr. Trenberth determined that if the Ocean Heat Content had been less, then rainfall would have been less.[47]

Dr. Trenberth’s Conclusions & Recommendations

Dr. Trenberth emphasizes that human activities are the dominant cause of the observed warming of the Earth.[48] Accordingly, he suggests that there is likely a human fingerprint on the extreme nature of recent hurricanes.[49] Hurricane Harvey caused approximately 30 billion USD in damages (insured and uninsured losses)[50], Hurricane Irma caused approximately 50 billion USD in damages (insured and uninsured losses)[51], and Hurricane Maria exceeded 63 billion USD damages (estimate for insured losses only).[52]

Dr. Trenberth recommends that to avoid the costs of hurricanes, we should: stop building in flood plains, adhere to strict building codes, manage drainage systems, plan evacuation routes, and plan emergency shelters.[53] He also stresses that while we do need mitigation and adaptation strategies to respond to climate change, we also need information.[54]

Read more on Dr. Trenberth’s work here: http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/#research.

Meera Nayak is a Staff Editor with the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy, and a 2L at the Sturm College of Law.


[1] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[2] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/#research

[3] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/#research

[4] http://www.ipcc.ch/

[5] http://www.ipcc.ch/

[6] http://www.ipcc.ch/

[7] http://www.ipcc.ch/

[8] http://unfccc.int/bodies/body/6383.php

[9] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[10] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[11] https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/#*

[12] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[13] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[14] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[15] https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/arctic-sea-ice/

[16] https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/arctic-sea-ice/

[17] https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/AR5_SYR_FINAL_SPM.pdf

[18] https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/monitoring-references/faq/anomalies.php

[19] https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/monitoring-references/faq/anomalies.php

[20] https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/monitoring-references/faq/anomalies.php

[21] https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/monitoring-references/faq/anomalies.php

[22] https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/monitoring-references/faq/anomalies.php

[23] https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/monitoring-references/faq/anomalies.php

[24] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[25] https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/global/time-series/globe/land_ocean/ytd/12/1880-2017

[26] http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9485.php; https://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/provisional-wmo-statement-status-of-global-climate-2016

[27] http://climateactiontracker.org/

[28] http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/3/e1601545.full

[29] https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdr/oceanic/ocean-heat-content

[30] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[31] https://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/wg1/042.htm

[32] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[33] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[34] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[35] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[36] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[37] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[38] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[39] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[40] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[41] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[42] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[43] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[44] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[45] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[46] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[47] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[48] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[49] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[50] http://www.bbc.com/news/business-41075704

[51] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hurricane-irma-corelogic/corelogic-estimates-hurricane-irma-property-damage-at-42-5-65-billion-idUSKCN1BU28T

[52] https://www.wsj.com/articles/hurricane-maria-caused-as-much-as-85-billion-in-insured-losses-air-worldwide-says-1506371305

[53] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

[54] http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/staff/trenbert/Presentations/Trenberth_Steamboat_Jan18.min.pdf

Posted in DJILP Online, DJILP Staff, Featured Articles, Meera NayakComments (0)

An example of the clean environment we are entitled to and trying to protect.

The Right to a Healthy Environment

An example of the clean environment we are entitled to and trying to protect.

An example of the clean environment we are entitled to and trying to protect. Photo Credit: Brown Safe Preserving Tomorrow

The basic premise is that everyone deserves to live in an environment that does not harm their well-being and provides an adequate standard of living. Currently, the right to a healthy environment is not one that is internationally recognized as a human right. There are skeptics that claim that the environment and human rights are two separate issues, but the two are actually interconnected. A healthy environment is the foundation for recognized human rights, such as, the right to life and an adequate standard of living. Without a healthy environment, these rights cannot be protected.

The first international agreement recognizing the right to a healthy environment is the 1972 Stockholm Declaration. Since then, there have been numerous international and regional agreements, as well national legislation that have supported recognizing the right. Most of these sources elaborate on the idea of the environment and human rights being inseparable. Over the past 30 years, the awareness of the degradation of the environment due to human activity has become a serious concern for the international community. Human impact on the environment has always existed, but has drastically increased since the 1980s.

Since the Stockholm Declaration in 1972, there have been many international agreements that have been created for the purpose of protecting, preserving, and improving the environment for human well-being. According to the Register of International Treaties and Other Agreements in the Field of Environment, there are 272 treaties and international agreements dealing with the environment and environmental obligations. Each of these treaties and agreements has helped develop international environmental law and have helped shape the right to a healthy environment.

There are many constitutions and laws around the world that recognize this right. The benefit to having a right enshrined within a constitution is similar to the benefits of having a treaty. A constitution is legally binding and holds the government accountable to meeting all the rights sets out within it. By having the right to a healthy environment in the constitution, it will lead to stronger environmental laws and gives governments improved means to implement and enforce the right.

There is an inherent link between human rights and the right to a healthy environment, because they are dependent upon each other. When the environment is not being taken care of the right to life, health, work, and sanitation are negatively impacted. People are dependent upon the environment in order to live, in a way, a healthy environment is the foundation for many other human rights. By taking care of the environment we are protecting human rights and vice versa. The recognition of this right can be seen by the increasing number of states with constitutional provisions as well as the amount of international agreements on the right.

Since the Stockholm Declaration, the discussion surrounding the right to a healthy environment has changed drastically. With more scientific information available and concerns about sustainability becoming more prevalent, the right is being given more consideration internationally. There are countless binding and non-binding international agreements as well national constitutions and legislation that guarantee canadian casino news the right. Not only are states recognizing the right, they are also recognizing that the environment and human rights are interconnected. In sum, the right to a healthy environment is critical not only for the sustainability of the global environment, but also for the protection of many human rights.

Courtney Burgess is a 3L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and is a staff editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.


Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.48/14/REV.1 (1972).

Ved Nanda, International Environmental Law & Policy for the 21st Century (2d. ed.) at 15.1

Register of International Treaties and Other Agreements in the Field of the Environment, U.N. Doc. UNEP/Env.Law/2005/3 (Dec. 30, 2005).

David R. Boyd, The Constitutional Right to a Healthy Environment, Environment (Jul.-Aug. 2012), http://www.environmentmagazine.org/Archives/Back%20Issues/2012/July-August%202012/constitutional-rights-full.html.

[1] John Knox, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment (Former Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment), United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Environment/SREnvironment/Pages/SRenvironmentIndex.aspx.

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Photo Credit: Colombia.edu

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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