After the Paris Climate talks,
it seemed that the global community was finally unified in recognizing the
negative impacts of climate change and making a real commitment to halting
further environmental degradation caused by this human-accelerated phenomenon. Unfortunately, the problem with climate talks and international deals is their
inherent lack of “teeth”–they are all bark and no bite when you read the fine
print. While the Paris deal is a step in the right direction, as far as the
international community recognizing the seriousness of climate change, there is
currently no enforcement mechanism in place (although there are discussions in
the works to change this).
policy makers and world leaders recognize the inherent problem with “talking”
about climate change and not enforcing change, many overlook the enforcement
mechanisms in place in other treaties and conventions. Although “soft” ways of dealing with climate change, such as mitigation and
adaptation efforts of the sort typically discussed at the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change, are available and are currently
utilized, the bottom line is that climate change is impacting the human population and economy right now. Whether the issue is a rising sea level that
is swallowing small island nations and much of the U.S.’s eastern coast, increased
periods of drought in Africa, or increasing water temperatures that destroy
marine habitats, politicians cannot deny that climate change is here.
As climate change leads to a rise in ocean levels, small island nations may be able
to file claims against UNCLOS member states. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
there is an alternative route to forcing nations to cut down their use of
greenhouse gases. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) outlines a method in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, by
which smaller island nations (SIDS) may file claims against nations who are
producing greenhouse gases and polluting the atmosphere and the oceans. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are absorbed by oceans and lead to ocean
acidification and warming, which is a form of ocean pollution that the UNCLOS
requires member nations to regulate. The UNCLOS requires states “to protect and
preserve the marine environment.” It also requires states to “take . . . all measures consistent with this Convention that are necessary to prevent,
reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from any source.” “[P]ollution of the marine environment” is defined as “the introduction by man,
directly or indirectly, of substance or energy into the marine environment.”  The UNCLOS also requires member states to
assess the potential effect of all activities that may harm the marine
similar to the United States’ National Environmental Policy Act, as well as
adopt laws and regulations to “reduce and control pollution of the marine
environment from or through the atmosphere.”
any member state that is not abiding by the obligations it agreed to is
vulnerable to a suit under the UNCLOS for its discretions. The major problem with this tactic is that China and the United States—the two biggest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions— are not members of the
UNCLOS. In conclusion, there are a few difficult methods for dealing with the
international problem of climate change, but nothing can change until the major
players come to the table and agree to take action and be bound by their talks.
 Formally titled COP21, the 21st United Nations Conference on Climate Change,
which took place in December 2015. See 2015 Paris Climate Conference, COP21, http://www.cop21paris.org/about/cop21 [https://perma.cc/JKA6-MGXX].
 Sara Malm, UN Planning an ‘international
tribunal of climate justice’ which would allow nations to take developed
countries to court, Daily Mail (Nov.
2, 2015), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3300366/UN-planning-international-tribunal-climate-justice-allow-nations-developed-countries-court.html
 UNCLOS, supra note 5.
Assessment Report, supra note 6; see also UNCLOS, supra note 5.
 UNCLOS, supra note 5, at part XII, §
1, art. 192.
 UNCLOS, supra note 5, at art. 194 (1)
 UNCLOS, supra note 5, at art. 1(1)(4)(4).
 UNCLOS, supra note 5, at art. 206.
 UNCLOS, supra note 5, at art. 212.
 UNCLOS, supra note 5, at Preamble (stating
that the member states have agreed to abide by what is written within the
Mengin Ge, Johannes Friedrich, & Thomas Damassa, 6 Graphs Explain the World’s Top 10 Emitters
. (Nov. 25, 2014), http://www.wri.org/blog/2014/11/6-graphs-explain-world’s-top-10-emitters
Posted by Brooklyn Hildebrandt on Wed. April 13, 2016 3:44 PM