Climate Change and the Law

This 2-credit seminar will examine global climate change and the range of actual and potential responses by legal institutions – primarily at the international treaty level and in the United States, with attention as well to the law in Europe, Australia, China, Brazil, and elsewhere.

We will compare alternative approaches that could be taken by the legal regime to address climate change: the choice of policy instrument (e.g., emissions taxes, allowance trading, technology R&D, prescriptive regulation, reducing deforestation, geoengineering, adaptation); the spatial scale (global, regional, national, local); the time scale (precautionary or adaptive, over decades or centuries); and key normative criteria for policy choice. We will also examine the actual legal measures that have been adopted so far to manage climate change: the international agreements such as the Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992), its Kyoto Protocol (1997), and the results of follow-on meetings such as Copenhagen (2009), Cancun (2010), Durban (2011), Doha (2012), and Warsaw (2013); and the policies undertaken by the US, Europe, Australia, China, Brazil, and other key countries. In the US, we will study national (federal) and sub-national (state and local) policies, including: legislative proposals in the US Congress; the US Supreme Court's decisions in Massachusetts v. EPA (2007), and Connecticut v. AEP (2011), addressing issues including standing to sue, statutory interpretation, delegation, administrative discretion, comparative institutional competence, and statutory preemption of common law; administrative regulation by US EPA under the current Clean Air Act; other federal laws such as the ESA and NEPA; state-level action by California, RGGI, and others; and common-law tort liability applied to climate change.

Questions we will discuss include: How effective and efficient are the policies being proposed and adopted? How do actions at the national and international levels affect each other (e.g. reinforcing or conflicting)? Can current institutions deal with a problem as enormous, complex, long-term, uncertain, and multi-faceted 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? Will dealing with mega-problems necessitate or lead to basic changes in legal institutions? Should the US 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 FCCC/Kyoto process so far? What should be the plan for action in 2015 and beyond? What are the best ways to engage countries in international cooperation? What principles of international and intergenerational justice should guide efforts to control climate change? How should aggregate social well-being, and distributional equity for the world's poor, shape climate change policy? Should greenhouse gas emitters (countries, businesses, consumers) be legally liable or responsible to compensate victims for their losses? What is the best mix of mitigation (prevention) and adaptation (resilience)? How will climate policy be influenced by geopolitical changes such as the rise of China and a shift from the US as lone superpower to a more multipolar world of several great powers? How will technological change affect law and policy, and how should the law seek to promote technological change? How should the legal system learn and remain adaptable to new information over time? What threats, challenges, and opportunities might climate change pose to legal and political systems?

Students must read the assigned materials in advance of class, and participate in class discussion. Each student will submit a short (5-6 page) paper, addressing the week's readings (and adding outside research), for three (3) of the 12 class sessions (not counting the first class session). A sign-up sheet will be circulated at the beginning of the course for students to select the 3 topics/class sessions for which they will submit these 3 short papers (so that these papers are spread across the semester). In addition, each student will write a longer research paper (15 pages), due at the end of the semester. Grades will be based on: 33% class participation, 33% the 3 short papers, and 33% the longer paper.

The Syllabus with weekly assignments, and the Resources (readings), will be posted on the Sakai site. (There is no textbook for this course; all readings will be posted on the Sakai site.)

Note: In Spring 2014, this course will have occasional joint meetings with Prof. William A. (Billy) Pizer's Sanford School course on Climate Change Economics and Policy (PUBPOL 264.25 & ENVIRON 298.123). Students seeking to enroll in both courses for credit should email Prof. Pizer (cc: to Prof. Wiener).
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