The Role of International Law in Fighting Climate Change

The contemplative practice from lesson seven really stuck with me because it helped me overcome my decidedly negative preconceptions about the role international law plays in combatting climate change. As previously I had concluded that although it was capable of facilitating minor progress in this regard, international law was largely incapable of creating significant positive impacts. My primary evidence for this feeling could be found in the modeling oversights inherent in the Paris Accords. The primary objective of this agreement is the limitation of global temperature increases to below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, in addition to ambitiously seeking further action to keep this temperature increase below 1.5 degrees Celsius (Economist). It seeks to do this through emissions reduction and increased investment in alternative energy sources. However, the agreement largely ignores the striking fact that a great deal of emissions would have to be removed from the atmosphere to meet these goals. It is unsettling this issue has not been addressed, especially as 101 out of 116 IPCC models, used to the calculate the Paris Agreement’s ability to achieve its goals, assumed that significant amounts of carbon would be removed from the atmosphere (Economist). This is no small piece of the puzzle as the amount of Co2 in the atmosphere is predicted to reach 810 billion tons by 2100 (Economist). As there is currently no substantial economic incentive for carbon capture, other than small-scale energy production, it is paramount governments create grants and incentive structures designed to dramatically work towards a plethora of potential solutions. In summary, while I absolutely support this treaty the significance of the oversights was troubling to me.

However, due to the contemplative practice in lesson seven I now understand how international treaties such as the Montreal Protocol have been instrumental in keeping planet Earth livable. Such is the case as I learned that refrigeration during transportation constitutes roughly 20% of the energy utilized by food systems. This statistic was not only striking because of how little it is discussed by media as well as policy makers but due to the grievous threat the chemicals within these processes once posed to humanity’s very survival. The original chemical that was used in this regard is called chlorofluorocarbon and it posed a massive threat to the stratospheric ozone layer. This posed a clear and present danger to life on Earth as without a robust ozone layer Ultra-Violet B rays would have an increasingly devastating affect on the cells of living organisms. These affects include primarily cancer, among other serious health issues. Through the mechanism of international law, however, human societies were successfully able to limit the emissions of CFC and other similar chemicals. Clearly, without this form of decisive action the current debate about climate change would be far different. In summary, while it may not always be as decisive a factor as a citizen of Earth would like, international law is still a key mechanism in the fight against climate change.



“The Cost of Doing Nothing.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 28 June 2014,

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