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Information is a powerful tool that government can use to inform the public about the risks of climate change, how to mitigate those risks, and how to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change. This chapter addresses the role the First Amendment plays when the government uses information to promote public policies on climate change. The chapter explains that the government has vast leeway to collect and disseminate information and the First Amendment presents no barrier to the government’s use of information tools when the government itself is the speaker. But the First Amendment does come into play when the government enlists or compels others to carry the government’s message. The First Amendment may, in some cases, limit the government’s power to compel speakers to engage in speech on matters of opinion or on subjects that might be considered controversial. The First Amendment generally limits government’s ability to force speakers to adhere to the government’s views. And the First Amendment may constrain the government’s ability to rid the marketplace of advertising claims that may over-promise environmental benefits, but are not demonstrably false or misleading. These constraints, however, do not pose a serious obstacle to the government’s ability to use information tools to help in the fight against climate change.
Under existing international and domestic law, governments and private actors have obligations to individuals and communities affected by climate change impacts on public health. This chapter discusses such obligations and the legal authorities – international, constitutional, statutory, and common law – under which they arise.
Increased temperatures and heatwaves are already serious public health problems in the United States and will worsen as climate change increases their frequency and intensity. Heat’s direct public health impacts include heat stress and stroke, death, and worsening of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Heat also degrades air and water quality, causing secondary impacts as well. Heat does not affect everyone equally – some populations are physically more susceptible to its effects, and others can be more vulnerable due to their environments. Governments owe particular legal duties to some of these populations under federal and state law.
Interventions to reduce the negative health effects of heatwaves and higher temperatures fall into two categories: emergency response strategies that include mostly traditional local public health functions, and built environment strategies that use a wider array of government powers, such as changes to zoning and building codes.
This chapter considers public health impacts of climate change in developing countries and responsive interventions, with a focus on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC) governance frameworks, the World Health Organization (WHO), and its membership. Its scope encompasses the roles and mandates of international organizations and instruments relevant to climate change-related policy. It discusses the status of health in international climate law – particularly the UNFCCC, the Paris Climate Agreement, and related institutional decisions – and these instruments’ implications for the prioritization of health in climate policy at the international and domestic levels. It then discusses the role of WHO policies to implement health requirements, especially in relation to the Paris Climate Agreement. The chapter concludes by proposing options to improve the status quo through adaptive governance at both the international and domestic levels and argues for several substantive, institutional, and procedural mechanisms of international climate law to promote and protect public health in developing countries.
The built environment, which includes not only buildings but infrastructure, mediates several important climate impacts on public health and is also subject to diverse legal requirements. It is a subject of particular focus for policy efforts aimed at promoting adaptive responses to climate change on the part of institutions and individuals. This chapter presents key examples of public health impacts that arise from climate change but are mediated – possibly mitigated, possibly exacerbated – by elements of the built environment. It also describes the process and substance of adaptive responses to those impacts. Having presented these physical and policy contexts in its first section, this chapter’s second section considers the role the law could play as individuals, organizations, and localities react to climate-driven harms and seek to adapt.
Existing environmental laws interact with public health priorities and with aspects of the changing climate in numerous and varied ways. This chapter does not attempt to catalogue those interactions, but instead focuses on two that are especially important and illustrative of the operation and limitations of existing environmental laws vis-à-vis climate change-driven challenges. The first interaction is between pollution levels boosted by climate change and pollution control laws that employ health-based standards to determine pollution limits. The second is between a wider array of existing laws and the effects of climate change mitigation measures on public health. Examining these interactions reveals the inadequacy of existing laws to the tasks of (1) tracking the public health impacts of – much less adapting to – climate change, and (2) ensuring that climate change mitigation efforts reflect a rational accounting of impacts on public health, whether from foregoing mitigation or undertaking it.
Climate Change, Public Health, and the Law provides the first comprehensive explication of the dynamic interactions between climate change, public health law, and environmental law, both in the United States and internationally. Responding to climate change and achieving public health protections each require the coordination of the decisions and behavior of large numbers of people. However, they also involve interventions that risk compromising individual rights. The challenges involved in coordinating large-scale responses to public health threats and protecting against the invasion of rights, makes the law indispensable to both of these agendas. Written for the benefit of public health and environmental law professionals and policymakers in the United States and in the international public health sector, this volume focuses on the legal components of pursuing public health goals in the midst of a changing climate. It will help facilitate efforts to develop, improve, and carry out policy responses at the international, federal, state, and local levels.