520.01 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 – including at the international level, within the United States and other countries (such as Europe, China, and others), at the subnational level, and at the urging of the private sector.

We will compare alternative approaches that have been or could be taken by legal systems to address climate change: the choice of policy instrument (e.g., emissions taxes, allowance trading, infrastructure programs, technology R&D, information disclosure, prescriptive regulation, carbon capture & storage, reducing deforestation, geoengineering, adaptation);  the spatial scale; the targets of the policy and criteria for deciding among these policy choices.  We will examine actual legal measures that have been adopted so far to manage climate change:  international agreements such as the Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992), its Kyoto Protocol (1997) and Paris Agreement (2015), plus related agreements like the Kigali Amendment (on HFCs) and ICAO (aviation) and IMO (shipping); as well as the policies undertaken by key national and subnational systems.  In the US, we will study national (federal) and subnational (state and local) policies, including EPA regulation under the Clean Air Act, other federal laws and policies relevant to climate change mitigation, state-level action by California, RGGI states, and North Carolina. We will also explore litigation involving tort/nuisance civil liability and the public trust doctrine to advance climate policy. 

Questions we will discuss include:  How effective and efficient are the policies being proposed and adopted? What actions are being taken at the local, national and international levels, and which reinforce or conflict with one another?  Can current institutions and legal frameworks deal with a problem as enormous, complex, long-term, uncertain, and multi-faceted as climate change?  What roles do scientific research, technological breakthroughs, and economic realities play in shaping legal responses?  How should the legal system learn from new information over time? How should we appraise the United Nations climate negotiations, and are there other models for international cooperation?  How should principles of equity, just transitions, and intergenerational justice guide efforts to address climate change? Should greenhouse gas emitters (countries, businesses, consumers) be directly liable or responsible for climate change impacts and compensate victims for their losses?  What is the best mix of mitigation and adaptation policies?  How will climate policy be influenced by geopolitical changes such as the rise of China?  How should the law address extreme catastrophic risk?  How should geoengineering be governed? What is the best path for future climate policy? 

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.

Spring 2021

Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor
Course Credits
Reflective Writing
Research and/or analytical paper(s), 10-15 pages
In-class exercise
Class participation
Jonathan B. Wiener, Kate Konschnik
Sakai site: https://sakai.duke.edu/portal/site/LAW.520.01.Sp21
Email list: LAW.520.01.Sp21@sakai.duke.edu
Degree Requirements
Course Requirements - JD
Course Requirements - LLM-ICL
Course Requirements - Public Interest
Course Areas of Practice