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Spring 2024 Course

Climate Change and the Politics of International Law

Prerequisites: None

Exam Type: Any Day Take-Home

As climate change has increasingly come to be seen as an urgent global problem, there has been a turn to international law for solutions. The resulting involvement of international lawyers in developing responses to climate change in an unequal world has been a deeply contested project. This course explores the varied roles that international lawyers and international institutions have played in shaping responses to climate change, the competing legal projects and strategies that they have developed to do so, and the shifting geopolitical contexts in which this work is taking place.

Our focus will include the role of international lawyers in multilateral negotiations conducted under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the move by small island states to seek advisory opinions on climate change from the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the turn to human rights litigation as a means of demanding greater climate action from states and fossil fuel companies, the use of trade and investment agreements as a basis for private actors to challenge state regulatory responses to climate change, expanding the role of the UN Security Council to address climate-related risks to international peace and security, and the proposal of a new international crime of ecocide. We will explore how the relative strengths of states, corporations, investors, and civil society organizations in different international fora have influenced the direction of new treaties, litigation strategies, security agendas, and multilateral projects.

The readings will include texts from law, history, political economy, and postcolonial theory, designed to interrogate how broader narratives of climate change are used to justify particular technical legal projects. Throughout, we will evaluate whether and how international lawyers are supporting or delaying the decarbonization of the global economy, and which actors are empowered by different forms of international legal engagement with climate change.

Note: This course will meet over the first six weeks of the term.