Area of Study & Practice
- Environmental Law
- International, Transnational, and Comparative Law
JD Graduation RequirementsThis course typically satisfies all or some of the following JD graduation requirements:
Climate Change and the Law
We will investigate the capacity of existing law to manage climate change, including international agreements such as the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change, its 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2009 Copenhagen Accord; the European, US, and other national policies; and various state- and local-level initiatives. This inquiry will look at political constraints on legal reform, both in the United States, in other countries, and in international regimes. How do domestic political institutions affect international action, and vice-versa? Can current institutions really deal with a problem as enormous, complex, long-term, and uncertain as climate change? What roles do changing scientific and economic understanding play in evolving legal responses? How do institutions and the public respond to potential but inchoate catastrophes?
In turn, we will study the impact that climate change may have on legal change. This will include consideration of the US Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA on standing to sue, statutory interpretation, and administrative discretion; US EPA's regulatory activities; efforts to extend common-law principles such as tort liability to climate change harms; efforts to enact new climate change legislation; international treaty negotiations; the implications for reform of regulation more generally; and the implications for federalism and scales of governance.
We will debate alternative approaches to the ideal legal regime to address climate change: the spatial scale (regional, national, global), time scale (precautionary or adaptive, over decades or centuries), mechanisms (e.g. allowance trading markets, taxes, technology, direct regulation, geoengineering), normative criteria, and other parameters of policy choice. Should the states be acting? Should you buy personal carbon offsets? Should the US have joined Kyoto, or have organized a parallel regime of major emitters, or have done something else? How should we appraise the December 2009 Copenhagen meeting? What principles of international and intergenerational justice should guide efforts to control climate change? How should concern for overall social well-being, and for the world’s poor, influence climate change policy? How will coming changes in world geopolitics, such as a shift from the US as lone superpower to a more multipolar world of several great powers, affect climate change policy? How will technological change affect law and policy, and how should the law seek to promote technological change? What threats, challenges, and opportunities might climate change present to legal and political systems?
This seminar will meet once per week for 2 hours per session.
Students must read the assigned materials in advance of class, and participate in the class discussion. Each student must submit a short (5 page) paper, responding to the week’s readings in light of the themes of the course, for three (3) of the class sessions (excluding the introductory session). Response papers must be posted on the course Blackboard site, in the Discussion Board, under the relevant class session entry, by the day before each class. Students may choose the weeks they wish to write these response papers, but must submit 3 by the end of the semester. A sign-up sheet will be circulated at the beginning of the course for students to designate the 3 topics/class sessions for which they will submit these 3 papers (so that these papers are spread across the semester).
In addition, each student must write a longer research paper (15 pages), due during exam period.
Grades will be based on: 33% class participation, 33% the 3 short papers, 33% the longer paper.
(This course was taught as a year-long course in 2007-2008)
Please note that course organization and content may vary substantially from semester to semester and descriptions are not necessarily professor specific. Please contact the instructor directly if you have particular course-related questions.
Jonathan B. Wiener
Climate Change and the Law 520.01
Jonathan B. Wiener, Jedediah Purdy
Climate Change and the Law 520.02