Climate change

Do Your Part,” Allied posters proclaimed during World War II. Women were urged to join the U.S. Army Auxiliary to work at defense plants, families were pressed to keep farms producing, and all were advised to keep their mouths shut. This coming-together defeated Axis enemies and gave rise to unprecedented postwar intergovernmental cooperation.

That 72-year-old global infrastructure is under threat. Last week saw fractious meetings at NATO headquarters (where I’m due to bring students later this month) and Taormina (just 75 miles north of the Siracusa summer school where I was then teaching). Today it’s the President’s invocation of the provision permitting U.S. withdrawal, in about 4 years, from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, to which 195 – nearly all – the countries in the world have agreed.

The news spurs reflection on the very small part I played in the development of the Paris Agreement.

As with most international accords, this one did not happen on the spur of the moment. Rather, countries had engaged in consultations and negotiations for years before the summit. France was especially active, eager to accomplish something significant in October-November 2015, when it would host COP21, the 21st Conference of the Parties to the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Thus in June 2015 I joined French and American colleagues at a symposium entitled “Le Changement climatique, miroir de la globalisation (Climate Change, Mirror of Globalization),” a pre-summit preparatory meeting whose cosponsors included the Collège de France and Fondation Charles Léopold Mayer pour le Progrès de l’Homme. Our interventions aided thinking about the impending summit.

My own contribution, “Le changement climatique et la sécurité humaine,” reprised a chapter published in Regards croisés sur l’internationalisation du droit : France-États-Unis (Mireille Delmas-Marty & Stephen Breyer eds., 2009). As indicated in the English version, “Climate Change and Human Security,” the essay demonstrated that litigation would not proved a fruitful method for combatting climate change. It thus advocated a human security approach, one drawn from U.S. legal traditions like the 1941 Four Freedoms speech of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the 1945 Statement of Essential Human Rights of the American Law Institute.

The essay concludes:

“Emphasis on state duty carries with it an assumption that legislative and executive officials will assume their obligation to avoid harm from occurring. Such officials may not assume, as seems the wont of some who operate under a litigation model, that they may act as they wish unless and until a court steps in to order some belated and imperfect sanction for the wrongs they have committed. A state that endeavors to achieve human security, moreover, is likely to fashion comprehensive, before-the-fact remedies. That is preferable even in isolated cases; in other words, we would rather have an agent of the state eschewed torture than have to compensate a victim after she has suffered state torture. This comprehensive, before-the-fact framework is even more preferable with regard to human insecurities that have communitywide, even planetary consequences – to name one, the threat to human security posed by climate change.”

Theories like these undergird the agreement reached in fall 2015. They yet may maintain a firm hold in these next 4 years.

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