In the first three editions of this book, the problem of climate change and the international legal arrangements developed to address it, were included in the chapter on atmospheric protection. Today, however, international law on climate change constitutes a vast field in its own right. It incorporates not only regulation of atmospheric pollution resulting from the release of greenhouse gases from human activities, but also a range of other issues, including impacts and adaptation, loss and damage, finance, deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), carbon markets, and linkages with other areas of international law, such as human rights and trade. Moreover, with the conclusion and entry into force of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the structures and processes of rules relating to climate change differ significantly from certain other areas of international environmental law. The Paris Agreement signals a tectonic shift, away from a top-down international standard-setting approach (as in the ozone regime), to a bottom-up regulatory model by which states determine their national contributions to the global response to climate change.
This chapter provides an introduction to the field of international climate change law, with a focus on the requirements of the Paris Agreement. It begins with a discussion of the climate change problem, summarising the latest scientific findings and highlighting some of the complexities of the issue that have precipitated a substantially different international legal response to that seen in other environmental areas. A brief overview is then provided of the two treaty instruments that preceded, and underpin, the 2015 Paris Agreement: the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. While important in putting climate change on the international agenda, and effecting a shift in consciousness, these treaties failed to slow emissions growth sufficiently or bring about the substantial reorientation in states’ economic policies concerned with energy production, industrial activity, transportation and forestry, necessary to achieve a sustainable climate future.