International Law and Climate Change: We are All Climate Lawyers Now

Climate change constitutes one of the preeminent threats of our time. By now, the impacts of a warming world are evident and inevitable. There is no longer a serious debate as to whether climate change multiplies and compounds stresses on human and natural systems and amplifies the risk and implications of slow- and sudden-onset disasters worldwide. Given the current climate forecast, it is no longer sensible to treat climate change as a discrete issue or one causal factor to manage.

This Signature Topic initiative, launched in April 2020 and extending to April 2022, aims to foster conversations within and beyond ASIL that explore the connections between climate change and virtually all other areas of international law. Almost without exception, climate change will engage legal actors, institutions, and mechanisms at all scales and from all sectors. As a result, we are all climate lawyers now.

There is of course significant ongoing work on the relationship between international law and climate change within the Society and among its membership. It is our hope to highlight these efforts and to stimulate further contributions from Society members and Interest Groups, NGO partners, policy-makers, practitioners, scholars, and students. The Signature Topic aims to encourage projects that address international law and climate change from multiple angles, with attention to innovation, equity, and inclusivity.

This website will serve as a portal to the projects the Signature Topic initiates, as well as to other ASIL-associated projects on this theme. Please check back for updates, consider developing projects on this Signature Topic theme, and reach out to any of us to propose other ASIL-associated climate change projects to highlight here. Ultimately, we hope this Signature Topic initative will advance thinking, conversation, and coordination among international lawyers on the ways in which climate change creates an important backdrop for the development and implementation of international law.

- Steering Group, International Law and Climate Change Signature Topic
Daniel Bodansky, Maxine Burkett, Cinnamon Carlarne, M.J. Durkee, and Jacqueline Peel

Climate change is the context within which law, economies, and culture will evolve in the 21st Century. Melting ice, warming oceans, and the resulting rising sea levels will disrupt ecosystems and existing maritime boundaries, including by opening up the high Arctic, thereby potentially generating new international conflicts and imperiling peace and cooperation. Changing precipitation patterns will exacerbate flooding, causing disruptions in global supply chains and implicating international trade law.

At the same time, what we do (or fail to do) to mitigate climate change, adapt to climate change, decarbonize our global economy, and preserve biodiversity will have significant consequences. From the role of governance tools to address climate change, including international hard and soft law, to the role of non-state actors, such as businesses and NGOs, international law has an important role to play both in advancing our collective efforts to phase out net greenhouse gas emissions in a manner that is safe for the global North and South, and in responding to specific harms caused by climate impacts.

Finally, while climate change will continue to have disruptive effect on international legal norms and institutions, it might also present opportunities to usher in new forms of international cooperation to enhance the prospects of national and collective survival and benefit.