In this chapter we discuss the unprecedented nature of the climate change challenge, legal principles relevant to solving it, and the interdisciplinary demands placed on those working in this area of law, science, and policy.
A ‘global–global’ problem
Our response to climate change has been unlike our response to any other global problem, whether physical or social. There has been an expectation from the start that the world’s wealthiest countries (in particular, the OECD countries) would move in lock step to solve it. Even developing countries are expected to march in unison, albeit at some distance behind the wealthier states. Our response to climate change has assumed that all states will work together and there will be no laggards. Thus international law and regulation have always been considered critical to solving the problem.
Other global problems – for example, older environmental harms such as water pollution, deforestation, species loss or overfishing – are ‘global’ in the narrow sense that they occur everywhere where large concentrations of people live. Human populations have similar environmental impacts throughout the world. Or, to take another type of global problem, abuse of human rights occurs in all locations where there are people, concentrated or not.