WSU Law Winter Speaker Series Climate change expert discovers 'Northwest Passage' Lecture series wraps up with talk on outlook for new climate change treaty

By John Minnis

Legal News

Manmade global warming exists and the Copenhagen Accord in December 2009 did little to slow it down.

That was one of the conclusions gleaned from the final Winter Speaker Series lecture hosted Thursday, April 8, by the Wayne State University Law School Program for International Legal Studies and the International Law Students Association in the law school's Spencer M. Partrich Auditorium.

At the final presentation, "The Prospects for a New International Agreement on Climate Change," law professor Gregory Fox, director of the Program for International Legal Studies, acknowledged the International Law Students Association's participation in the program and encouraged interested international law students to join the association.

Speaker Daniel M. Bodansky, the Emily and Ernest Woodruff Chair in International Law at the University of Georgia Law School, gave a slide presentation on the increase of greenhouse gas emissions and correlating rise in global temperature. He then discussed the outcome of the Copenhagen Accord, which has been both lauded and criticized.

Bodansky is recognized as one of the premier authorities on global climate change. He has served as the climate change coordinator and attorney-advisor at the U.S. Department of State in addition to consulting for the United Nations in the areas of climate change and tobacco control. His most recent book, "The Art and Craft of International Environmental Law," was published in 2009 by Harvard University Press. His other scholarship includes two books, 24 scholarly articles and book chapters, five book reviews and more than 40 papers and presentations. Bodansky earned his law degree from Yale University, where he was a member of the Yale Law Journal. He obtained his master's in the history and philosophy of science from Cambridge University in 1981 and his bachelor's magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1979.

He quickly enumerated several factors accepted by nearly all global climate scientists and organizations, including the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change):

* Global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels are rising at the upper band of 10-year predictions.

* Global temperatures are rising.

* Sea levels are rising.

* Glaciers are retreating.

* Extreme, violent weather and heat waves will increase.

* Coastal flooding will occur.

* Malnutrition and starvation will increase in vulnerable areas, especially Africa.

* Small island nations will disappear.

* Cause is anthropogenic.

"People joke," Bodansky said, "that they are going to have to rename Glacier National Park to Non-Glacier National Park."

Bodansky said the point was made personal to him when he visited the park. He asked one of the park rangers why the visitor's center was located so far away from the glacier. He was told that it was next to glacier when it was built.

He noted that the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free during summers within a few decades.

"The Northwest Passage sought by explorers for centuries will be accessible," Bodansky said. "Sea lanes will be open from the Atlantic to the Pacific."

He pointed out that the Maldives in the Indian Ocean is looking for land in Australia to relocate the entire population.

The irony is the least emitters of greenhouse gases will be bear the brunt of global warming, Bodansky said. He also cited the nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths in France during the European heat wave of 2003.

Bodansky then discussed the history of the "International Climate Change Regime," beginning with the formation of the IPCC in 1988, followed by the Kyoto Protocol in 1992 and the Copenhagen Accord last year.

He said the legal process is described as the "Framework Convention/Protocol Approach," the latter embodied by the Kyoto Protocol and the former by the Copenhagen Accord.

The Copenhagen Accord was important due to several factors, Bodansky said. One is that the Kyoto Protocol is expiring in 2012. Another was the change in administration in Washington, D.C.

However, new President Obama was the last world leader to agree to go to Copenhagen, the largest meeting of world leaders in history, Bodansky said.

In the end, Obama did not commit to the large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions many wanted and feel are necessary to halt global warming. The only thing the Copenhagen Accord agreed to was limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees centigrade.

Climate change is a "prisoner's dilemma," Bodansky said, a situation in which it would be beneficial for all to cooperate but find it difficult or too expensive to do so. The United States, for example, is the only nation among the Kyoto signers to not ratify the accord. In fact, it never even got before the Senate.

"Even if Al Gore were elected president -- which he was in 2000," Bodansky said, "the Kyoto Accord would have never gotten through the Senate."

He said the United States feels the necessary 80 to 90 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would bankrupt the country and be too harmful to business. The developing counties, on the other hand, believe they are being denied the same standard of living the developed countries enjoy. And besides, they point out, it was the developed countries that caused global warming in the first place.

"It's hard enough to get China and India to reduce emissions," Bodansky said, "when they don't even know if the U.S. is going to reduce theirs."

He described Copenhagen as "a totally dysfunctional negotiating process."

In the end, Bodansky asked, did the Copenhagen Accord solve the problem? No. Is it likely to reduce emissions? Probably.

A further criticism of the Copenhagen Accord is that it is not a legal agreement; it is not legally binding.

"International law is part of the answer to international emissions," Bodansky said, "but not all. Not even the majority role."

One student wondered whether there was much call for international law attorneys when it seems the best that can be achieved are nonbinding political agreements.

"In my opinion," Bodansky responded, "the legal status of an agreement matters. Not as much as some at Copenhagen thought, but it does matter."

He pointed out that the public takes legal agreements more seriously, and countries are more reluctant to sign legal agreements.

"I think a non-legal agreement can be effective in influencing behavior," Bodansky said, "but not as effective as a legal agreement."

Another student questioned whether the uncertainty in global warming science warranted drastic measures.

"I think it's a huge risk to be taking to not do something," Bodansky said. "You are gambling with the planet. I just think it's a gamble imprudent to take. Even as just insurance against climate change, it is a worthwhile investment."

Published: Tue, Apr 20, 2010


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