Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 July 2017
Under the no-harm principle, states must prevent activities within their jurisdiction from causing extraterritorial environmental harm. It has been argued elsewhere that excessive greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from industrial states constitute a breach of this principle and instigate state responsibility. Yet, the relevance of general international law for climate change does not obviate a need for more specific international climate change agreements. This article argues that the climate regime is broadly compatible with general norms. It can, furthermore, address a gap in compliance with general international law – namely, the systematic failure of industrial states to cease excessive GHG emissions and to provide adequate reparations. As a compliance regime, the international climate change law regime defines global ambition and national commitments and initiates multiple processes to raise awareness, set political agendas, and progressively build momentum for states to comply with their obligations under general international law.
I am most thankful to Alexander Zahar for a year-long conversation which led to the idea of this article. Preliminary reflections on the topic were presented at the workshop on enforcement in international law held at Peking University School of Law, Peking (China), 11–12 June 2016, and at the regional conference of the Asian Society of International Law in Hanoi (Vietnam), 14–15 June 2016; I am thankful to the participants for useful comments. I also received valuable advice from several anonymous peer reviewers. I am thankful to Roger Suen for research assistance. All errors remain mine.
1 See generally IPCC, Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC (Cambridge University Press, 2014)Google Scholar.
2 Ibid., p. 13.
3 The share in total 2012 GHG emissions excluding land-use change and forestry: China (24.5%), the US (13.9%), the EU of 28 (9.8%), India (6.7%) and Russia (5.2%), computed by the author on the basis of data found in CAIT Climate Data Explorer of the World Resources Institute, available at: http://cait.wri.org.
4 Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Korea, the Netherlands, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the US, with 9.2% of the world’s population, account for 26.5% of the global GHG emissions excluding land-use change and forestry, as computed by the author on the basis of data found in CAIT Climate Data Explorer of the World Resources Institute, ibid.
6 Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm Declaration), Stockholm (Sweden), 16 June 1972, Principle 21, available at: http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?documentid=97&articleid=1503; Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 14 June 1992, Principle 2, available at: http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?documentid=78&articleid=1163. See also, e.g., Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, Advisory Opinion, 8 July 1996, ICJ Reports (1996) 226, at para. 29.
8 See, e.g., Bothe, M., ‘Compliance’, in Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law (Oxford University Press, 2010), para. 45, available at: http://opil.ouplaw.com/view/10.1093/law:epil/9780199231690/law-9780199231690-e46?rskey=Ab6RWE&result=7&prd=EPIL Google Scholar.
11 New York, NY (US), 9 May 1992, in force 21 Mar. 1994, available at: https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/conveng.pdf.
12 Kyoto (Japan), 11 Dec. 1997, in force 16 Feb. 2005, available at: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/kpeng.pdf.
13 Paris (France), 13 Dec. 2015, in force 4 Nov. 2016, UNFCCC Secretariat, Decision 1/CP.21, Adoption of the Paris Agreement, UN Doc. FCCC/CP/2015/10/Add.1, Annex, p. 21, available at: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/10a01.pdf.
14 Ibid., Art. 2.1(a).
15 UNFCCC Secretariat, Synthesis Report on the Aggregate Effect of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (2015), UN Doc. FCCC/CP/2015/7, available at: https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/07.pdf.
16 See, in particular, Zahar, A., ‘Mediated versus Cumulative Environmental Damage and the International Law Association’s Legal Principles on Climate Change’ (2014) 4(3–4) Climate Law, pp. 217–233 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Mayer, B., ‘The Applicability of the Principle of Prevention to Climate Change: A Response to Zahar’ (2015) 5(1) Climate Law, pp. 1–24 ; Zahar, A., ‘Methodological Issues in Climate Law’ (2015) 5(1) Climate Law, pp. 25–34 .
17 The claim of this article is not that the climate law regime seeks only to promote compliance with pre-existing rules. The climate regime plays an important role in clarifying these rules in multiple ways, and these clarifications are likely to leave a durable trace in international law – for instance, by contributing to a better understanding of relevant rules of general international law.
18 Thus, most of the states that are taking quantified emissions limitation or reduction commitments under the second commitment of the Kyoto Protocol (as per the Doha Amendment, below) renounced the purchase and sometimes the use of any surplus assigned units from the first commitment period. See declarations in Annex II of Decision 1/CMP.8, Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol pursuant to its Art. 3, para. 9 (the Doha Amendment), UN Doc. FCCC/KP/CMP/2012/13/Add.1, 8 Dec. 2012, available at: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2012/cmp8/eng/13a01.pdf.
19 See, in particular, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, Montreal, QC (Canada), 16 Sept. 1987, in force 1 Jan. 1989, available at: http://ozone.unep.org/new_site/en/montreal_protocol.php; Protocol to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, Vienna (Austria), 22 Mar. 1985, in force 22 Sept. 1988, available at: http://ozone.unep.org.
20 Support for such a view can be found in the award of the arbitral tribunal constituted under Annex VII of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) (Montego Bay (Jamaica), 10 Dec. 1982, in force 16 Nov. 1994, available at: http://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/convention_overview_convention.htm), in Australia and New Zealand v. Japan (Southern Bluefin Tuna Case), 4 Aug. 2000, (2000) 23 RIAA 1, para. 52: ‘In the practice of States, the conclusion of an implementing convention does not necessarily vacate the obligations imposed by the framework convention upon the parties to the implementing convention. The broad provisions for the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights, and the international obligation to co-operate for the achievement of those purposes, found in Articles 1, 55 and 56 of the Charter of the United Nations, have not been discharged for States Parties by their ratification of the Human Rights Covenants and other human rights treaties’.
21 C. Tomuschat, What is General International Law?, Audiovisual Library of International Law, 2009, available at: http://legal.un.org/avl/ls/Tomuschat.html#.
22 Art. 53, Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT), Vienna (Austria), 23 May 1969, in force 27 Jan 1980, available at: https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%201155/volume-1155-I-18232-English.pdf.
23 International Law Commission (ILC), ‘Conclusions of the Work of the Study Group on the Fragmentation of International Law: Difficulties Arising from the Diversification and Expansion of International Law’ (2006) 2(2) Yearbook of the International Law Commission, paras 5–10 Google Scholar.
25 United States v. Canada (1941) 3 RIAA 1907.
26 See, in particular, references at n. 6 above; UNFCCC, n. 11 above, Recital 9.
27 N. 6 above, Principle 2.
29 N. 6 above, para. 29.
30 The latter is sometimes referred to separately as the ‘preventive principle’.
31 See Zahar (2014), n. 16 above; see also Mayer, n. 16 above; Zahar (2015), n. 16 above; International Law Association (ILA), Resolution 2/2014, Declaration of Legal Principles relating to Climate Change, 11 Apr. 2015, Art. 7A.
32 The application of the no-harm principle to damage to the global commons, which has ‘the potential to destroy all civilization and the entire ecosystem of the planet’, is suggested in Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, Advisory Opinion, n. 6 above, para. 35.
34 These questions are further discussed in Mayer, n. 7 above; Mayer, n. 16 above.
35 ILC, Draft Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts (Articles on State Responsibility), in Report of the ILC on the Work of its Fifty-Third session, Official Records of the General Assembly, Fifty-Sixth session, Supp. No. 10 (A/56/10), Ch. IV.E.2, Arts 1 and 2.
36 Ibid., Art. 25; see also Shue, n. 33 above.
38 Articles on State Responsibility, n. 35 above, Art. 30.
39 Ibid., Art. 31.
40 Ibid., Art. 34.
41 Crawford, J., ‘Third Report on State Responsibility, by Mr. James Crawford, Special Rapporteur’ (2000) 2(1) Yearbook of the International Law Commission, pp. 3–112 Google Scholar, para. 42.
42 States have strongly opposed any attempt at retrospective reparations in the trade regime: see World Trade Organization Dispute Settlement Body, Minutes of Meeting, 11 Feb. 2000, WT/DSB/M/75, p. 5.
43 Mayer, n. 37 above; see also B. Mayer, ‘Less-Than-Full Reparation in International Law’ (forthcoming 2017) Indian Journal of International Law.
45 See. e.g., ILA, n. 31 above.
46 Beck, S. & Burleson, E., ‘Inside the System, Outside the Box: Palau’s Pursuit of Climate Justice and Security at the United Nations’ (2014) 3(1) Transnational Environmental Law, pp. 17–29 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 26; ‘Press Conference on Request for International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on Climate Change’, UN Meetings Coverage and Press Releases, 3 Feb. 2012, available at: http://www.un.org/press/en/2012/120203_ICJ.doc.htm.
47 Summary Record of the 20th Meeting of the Sixth Committee of the 66th General Assembly, UN Doc. A/C.6/66/SR.20, 26 Oct. 2011, para. 15 (Simonoff, US).
48 Summary Record of the 18th Meeting of the Sixth Committee of the 68th General Assembly, UN Doc. A/C.6/68/SR.18, 29 Oct. 2013, para. 21 (Macleod, United Kingdom).
49 First Report on the Protection of the Atmosphere, prepared by Mr Shinya Murase, Special Rapporteur, UN Doc. A/CN.4/667, 14 Feb. 2014, para. 5.
50 UNFCCC, n. 11 above, Art. 2.
51 Ibid., Art. 4.1(b).
52 Ibid., Art. 4.2.
53 Kyoto Protocol, n. 12 above, Art. 3 and Annex B.
54 Decision 1/CMP.8, n. 18 above, Annex I.
55 Decision 2/CP.15, Copenhagen Accord, UN Doc. FCCC/CP/2009/11/Add.1, 18 Dec. 2009, available at: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2009/cop15/eng/11a01.pdf.
56 Decision 1/CP.16, The Cancún Agreements: Outcome of the Work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action under the Convention, UN Doc. FCCC/CP/2010/7/Add.1, 10–11 Dec. 2010, paras 36 and 49, available at: https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2010/cop16/eng/07a01.pdf.
57 Paris Agreement, n. 13 above, Art. 3.
58 Decision 1/CP.13, Bali Action Plan, UN Doc. FCCC/CP/2007/6/Add.1, 14–15 Dec. 2007, paras 1(c) and 1(c)(iii), available at: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2007/cop13/eng/06a01.pdf#page=3.
59 UNFCCC, n. 11 above, Art. 4.4.
60 Kyoto Protocol, n. 12 above, Art. 12.8. This support is distributed through the Adaptation Fund.
61 Decision 1/CP.16, n. 56 above, para. 20; Decision 2/CP.19, Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage Associated with Climate Change Impacts, UN Doc. FCCC/CP/2013/10/Add.1. 23 Nov. 2013, available at: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2013/cop19/eng/10a01.pdf#page=6.
62 Paris Agreement, n. 13 above, Art. 7.1.
63 Ibid., Art. 8.1.
64 Funding in support of adaptation is estimated to represent US$25 billion (most of which is national) out of a total US$391 billion climate finance, according to B. Buchner et al., Global Landscape of Climate Finance 2015 (Climate Policy Initiative, Nov. 2015), available at: http://climatepolicyinitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Global-Landscape-of-Climate-Finance-2015.pdf.
65 For a historical example, see Caracas Declaration of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Group of 77 on the Occasion of the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Group, Caracas (Venezuela), 21–23 June 1989, para. II–34. available at: http://www.g77.org/doc/A-44-361-E.pdf.
66 N. 6 above.
67 UNFCCC, n. 11 above, recitals 8 and 9.
68 I agree with Alexander Zahar on this: Zahar (2015), n. 16 above, p. 29.
69 UNFCCC, n. 11 above, Art. 3.1.
70 Statement of the US on Principle 7 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, in Report of the UN Conference on Environment and Development, Vol. II: Proceedings of the Conference, UN Doc. A/CONF.151/26/Rev.1 (Vol. II) (1992), p. 17.
71 Decision 1/CP.16, n. 56 above, second recital above para. 36.
72 Decision 1/CP.21, n. 13 above, para. 52.
73 See n. 16 above.
74 This is, for instance, implied in ILC, n. 23 above, paras 2, 5 and 9.
75 Articles on State Responsibility, n. 35 above, Commentary under Art. 55, para. 4 (emphasis added).
76 ILC, n. 23 above, para. 4. See also M. Koskenniemi et al., ‘Fragmentation of International Law: Difficulties Arising from the Diversification and Expansion of International Law’, Report of the Study Group of the International Law Commission, UN Doc. A/CN.4/L.682, 13 Apr. 2006, para. 88, noting that ‘the lex specialis principle is assumed to apply if “harmonious interpretation” turns out to be impossible, that is, to overrule a general standard by a conflicting special one’.
77 Decision 15/CP.7, Principles, Nature and Scope of the Mechanisms pursuant to Arts 6, 12 and 17 of the Kyoto Protocol, UN Doc. FCCC/CP/2001/13/Add.2, 10 Nov. 2001, available at: http://cdm.unfccc.int/EB/rules/modproced.html, recital 7 of which states: ‘recognizing that the Kyoto Protocol has not created or bestowed any right, title or entitlement to emissions of any kind on Parties included in Annex I’.
78 See UNFCCC, n. 11 above, Art. 4.7; Zahar (2015), n. 16 above, p. 32.
79 Decision 1/CP.21, n. 13 above, para. 52.
80 Declaration of the Government of Tuvalu upon Signature and Ratification of the Paris Agreement (22 Apr. 2016), available at: http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9444txt.php?utm=EchoboxAI&. Similar declarations on the Paris Agreement were made by Nauru and the Marshall Islands, and by multiple states on the occasion of the signature or ratification of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol.
81 See, e.g., Koskenniemi et al., n. 76 above, para. 102.
82 See nn. 19 and 20 above.
83 See UNFCCC, n. 11 above, Art. 2.
84 Bodansky, D., ‘The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: A Commentary’ (1993) 18(2) Yale Journal of International Law, pp. 451–558 Google Scholar, at 495.
85 Decision 1/CP.1, The Berlin Mandate: Review of the Adequacy of Article 4, Para. 2(a) and (b), of the Convention, Including Proposals related to a Protocol and Decisions on Follow-Up, UN Doc. FCCC/CP/1995/7/Add.1, 7 Apr. 1995, available at: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/cop1/07a01.pdf#page=4.
86 Decision 1/CMP.1, Consideration of Commitments for Subsequent Periods for Parties included in Annex I to the Convention under Art. 3, para. 9, of the Kyoto Protocol, UN Doc. FCCC/KP/CMP/2005/8/Add.1, 30 Mar. 2006, available at: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2005/cmp1/eng/08a01.pdf#page=3.
87 UNFCCC, n. 11 above, recital 4, Art. 3.1.
88 Kyoto Protocol, n. 12 above, Art. 3.1.
89 Decision 1/CMP.8, n. 18 above, Annex 1, para. C.
90 VCLT, n. 22 above, Art. 26.
91 Shishlov, I., Morel, R. & Bellassen, V., ‘Compliance of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in the First Commitment Period’ (2016) 16(6) Climate Policy, pp. 768–782 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Economic studies, however, suggest that the developed state parties to the Kyoto Protocol have, on average, emitted 7% or 8% less GHG than other states during that period: Grunewald, N. & Martinez-Zarzoso, I., ‘Did the Kyoto Protocol Fail? An Evaluation of the Effect of the Kyoto Protocol on CO2 Emissions’ (2015) 21(1) Environment and Development Economics, pp. 1–22 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Aichele, R. & Felbermayr, G., ‘Kyoto and the Carbon Footprint of Nations’ (2012) 63(3) Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, pp. 336–354 .
92 See, e.g., Decision 1/CP.16, n. 56 above, para. 37; Decision 1/CP.19, Further Advancing the Durban Platform, UN Doc. FCCC/CP/2013/10/Add.1, 23 Nov. 2013, para. 4(c), available at: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2013/cop19/eng/10a01.pdf#page=3; Decision 1/CP.21, n. 13 above, para. 106(c).
93 Paris Agreement, n. 13 above, Art. 3; see also Art. 4.3.
94 Paris Agreement, n. 13 above, Arts. 13 and 14; Decision 1/CP.16, n. 56 above, paras 38–47.
95 On the legal force of unilateral declarations, see ILC, ‘Guiding Principles Applicable to Unilateral Declarations of States Capable of Creating Legal Obligations’ (2006) 2(2) Yearbook of International Law Commission, pp. 160–166 Google Scholar.
96 Kyoto Protocol, n. 12 above, Art. 3.1 (‘shall … ensure’).
97 Paris Agreement, n. 13 above, Arts 3 and 4.2. The wording of the Cancún Agreement regarding developed states (‘targets to be implemented’, para. 36) is ambivalent, although the pledges of developing states (‘actions to be implemented’, para. 49) appear more clearly as an obligation of means.
98 Decision 2/CP.15, n. 55 above, para. 1.
99 Decision 1/CP.16, n. 56 above, para. 4; Paris Agreement, n. 13 above, Art. 2.1(a).
100 UNFCCC Secretariat, Compilation of Economy-Wide Emission Reduction Targets to be Implemented by Parties included in Annex I to the Convention, UN Doc. FCCC/SBSTA/2014/INF.6, 9 May 2014, available at: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2014/sbsta/eng/inf06.pdf.
101 See, e.g., Decision 1/CP.17, Establishment of an Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, UN Doc. FCCC/CP/2011/9/Add.1, 11 Dec. 2011, recital 3, available at: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2011/cop17/eng/09a01.pdf#page=2; Paris Agreement, n. 13 above, recital 10.
102 Paris Agreement, n. 13 above, para. 17; see also UNFCCC Secretariat, n. 15 above.
103 See n. 1 above and accompanying text.
104 UNFCCC, n. 11 above, Art. 4.4.
105 Buchner et al., n. 64 above.
106 Decision 1/CP.13, n. 58 above, para. 1(c).
107 Decision 1/CP.16, n. 56 above, para. 11.
108 The Adaptation Fund created by the Kyoto Protocol, for instance, has committed less than US$400 million since its creation, according to information found on its website: https://www.adaptation-fund.org.
109 Decision 2/CP.15, n. 55 above, para. 8; Decision 1/CP.16, n. 56 above, paras 95 (2010–12) and 98 (2020).
110 Decision 1/CP.16, ibid., para. 102.
111 See, e.g., Decision 1/CP.17, n. 101 above, para. 66.
112 See, e.g., Decision 3/CP.19, Long-Term Climate Finance, UN Doc. FCCC/CP/2013/10/Add.1, 23 Nov. 2013, para. 10, available at: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2013/cop19/eng/10a01.pdf.
113 UNFCCC Secretariat, Compilation and Synthesis of Biennial Submissions from Developed Country Parties on their Strategies and Approaches for Scaling up Climate Finance from 2014 to 2020, UN Doc. FCCC/CP/2015/INF.1, 27 May 2015, para. 7, available at: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/inf01.pdf.
114 Paris Agreement, n. 13 above, Art. 7.7.
115 Ibid., Art. 7.8.
116 Ibid., Art. 9.5.
117 Green Climate Fund, ‘Status of Pledges and Contributions made to the Green Climate Fund’, 27 May 2016, available at http://www.greenclimate.fund/documents/20182/24868/Status_of_Pledges.pdf/eef538d3-2987-4659-8c7c-5566ed6afd19.
118 Factory at Chorzów, Merits, 13 Sept. 1928, PCIJ Series A No. 17 (1928), p. 47.
120 See n. 9 above and accompanying text.
121 UNFCCC, n. 11 above, Art. 14; Kyoto Protocol, n. 12 above, Art. 19; Paris Agreement, n. 13 above, Art. 24.
122 UNFCCC, ibid., Arts 14.1 and 14.6. Here also, the annex on conciliation announced in Art. 14.7 has never been adopted.
123 UNFCCC, ibid., Arts 14.2(b) and 14.7.
124 Kyoto Protocol, n. 12 above, Art. 18.
125 Paris Agreement, n. 13 above, Art. 15(1) and (2).
126 See, e.g., Decision 2/CP.15, n. 55 above, para. 1; Decision 1/CP.21, n. 13 above, para. 100(b).
127 Paris Agreement, n. 13 above, recital 5; see also UNFCCC, n. 11 above, recitals 3 and 7.
128 Paris Agreement, n. 13 above, Art. 12; see also UNFCCC, n. 11 above, Art. 6.
129 Information collected from the UNFCCC Secretariat website page on observer organizations, available at: http://unfccc.int/parties_and_observers/observer_organizations/items/9545.php.
130 Information gathered from the website of the COP-21 host, available at: http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/les-espaces-generations-climat.
131 Decision 1/CP.21, n. 13 above, paras 118 and 134–7.
132 Posner, E. & Weisbach, D., Climate Change Justice (Princeton University Press, 2010), p. 181 Google Scholar.
133 Paris Agreement, n. 13 above, Art. 13.1.
134 Ibid., Art. 13.5.