Ch. 11:  Protection of the Global Environment

Paris Agreement on Climate Change

    On December 12, 2015, all 195 nations meeting in Paris at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) agreed to the Paris Agreement.  The agreement establishes a global plan for responding to climate change.  It incorporates intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) from more than 180 countries specifying what they intend to do to respond to climate change.  The U.S. commitment is to reduce its GHG emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2025.  The Paris Agreement specifies that each country’s progress in meeting its INDC will be reviewed through a transparent process applicable to both developed and developing countries.  An English translation of the agreement is available at:

    A major factor in achieving global consensus was the fact that China and the U.S. had agreed in November 2014 on a joint program to control their GHG emissions with China agreeing for the first time to cap its emissions by 2030 or sooner.  U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change, available online at:  See also the U.S.-China Joint Presidential Statement on Climate Change, Sept. 25, 2015, available online at:

    The Paris Agreement sets a global goal of reducing GHG emissions to a level where global temperatures will rise well below 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels and acknowledges the desirability of keeping the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.  It also recognizes that existing INDCs are inadequate to achieve these goals but urges all countries regularly to strengthen their commitments.  An excellent early description of the agreement is: “Five Things You Need to Know About the Paris Climate Deal,” The Conversation, Dec. 12, 2015, available online at:     The Obama administration will not be submitting the Paris Agreement to the U.S. Senate for ratification.  It is taking the position that existing law provides it with the authority to take all actions necessary to comply with the agreement, as was the case with the Minimata Convention on Mercury (see below). For a discussion of how legally durable the U.S. climate pledges are, see Percival, “Can Obama’s Climate Pledges Survive Republican Opposition?” New Republic, Dec. 14, 2015, available online at:

    The Paris Agreement on climate change entered into force on November 4, 2016, 30 days after  it was ratified by at least 55 parties that account for 55% or more of global greenhouse gas emissions.  A total of 120 of the 197 parties to the agreement have now ratified it.  An updated list of the parties and their ratification status is available online at:  The first Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Convention was held in Marrakech, Morocco in November 2016. 

    On June 1, 2017 President Donald Trump announced that he intends to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord.  He did so against the advice of the leaders of major corporations, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his daughter Ivana.  Several world leaders criticized the decision, which cannot take effect until November 2020 under the terms of the agreement.  Only two other countries in the world have rejected the Paris Agreement - Nicaragua (on the ground that it is not strong enough) and Syria. In his statement announcing the withdrawal, President Trump falsely asserted that the agreement “punishes the United States . . . while imposing no meaningful obligations on the world’s leading polluters.”  He also falsely asserted that the Paris Agreement would cost the U.S. economy $3 trillion dollars in lost GDP and 6.5 million industrial jobs. In an effort to mollify some of his critics, Trump bizarrely announced that the U.S. would “begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris Accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers.”  World leaders promptly rejected any suggestion of renegotiating the Paris Accord.  Several states, cities, corporations, and universities have pledged to work to achieve the U.S. goals in the Paris Accord for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions despite the federal government's withdrawal.

The Kigali Agreement: Using the Montreal Protocol to Phase

out Ozone-depleting Substances that Are Greenhouse Gases

    In October 2016 the 28th Conference of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, agreed to a global phase out of hydrofluorocarbons, a potent set of greenhouse gases that also are ozone-depleting substances. It is estimated that these measures alone may slow global warming by as much as 0.5C.  This is a tremendous achievement that is the product of years of meticulous diplomacy. The Montreal Protocol already has been responsible for greater reductions in greenhouse gas emissions than even the Kyoto Protocol.  The new measures will help reduce the impact on climate change of the rapid growth of air conditioning use in developing countries. 

The ICAO Establishes a Carbon Offsetting Program for Aviation

    At the beginning of October 2016 191 countries in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), meeting in Montreal, adopted a plan to require airlines to offset the greenhouse gas emissions from their international flights beginning in 2020.  This also is a remarkable achievement for global environmental law.  It was spawned in large part by the EU’s efforts to require airlines flying to and from Europe to pay emissions charges.  Although Russia, India, China and the U.S. fiercely resisted the EU’s efforts, they were upheld by the European Court of Justice and suspended only after the ICAO agreed to convene negotiations for a global agreement.

Climate Change Litigation

    Professor Michael Gerrard of the Columbia University School of Law maintains a website tracking these cases at: Columbia’s Center for Climate Change Law has a blog on climate change at:

The law firm of Jenner & Block maintains an online Climate Change Update Resource Center that reports on recent developments at:


    On October 10, 2013 representatives from 92 nations signed the Minimata Convention on Mercury.  The signing ceremony was held in Minimata, Japan, site of horrendous mercury poisoning caused by a chemical plant dumping mercury into the harbor of the small fishing village during the 1950s and 1960s.  Countries signing the treaty pledged to control emissions of mercury from new power plants and to phase out the use of mercury in many products by the year 2020.  All mercury mining is to be ended in 15 years. The treaty will take effect when ratified by 50 countries, which is expected to occur in three to four years.  Representatives of the U.S., who helped negotiate the treaty, could not participate in the October 10th signing because of the shutdown of the federal government.

    On November 6, 2013 the U.S. signed the Minimata Convention on Mercury, and it also became the first nation to deposit its “instrument of acceptance” of the Convention with the United Nations.  The Convention provides that it will enter into force “on the ninetieth day after the deposit of the fiftieth instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.”  The State Department explained why it formally accepted the Minimata Convention without seeking Senate ratification in the following statement: “The United States has already taken significant steps to reduce the amount of mercury we generate and release to the environment, and can implement Convention obligations under existing legislative and regulatory authority. The Minimata Convention complements domestic measures by addressing the transnational nature of the problem.” In 2008 Congress passed, and President George W. Bush signed into law the Mercury Export Ban Act that added §§ 6(f) and 12(c) to the Toxic Substances Control Act to prohibit the sale, distribution, transfer and export of elemental mercury.  Coupled with EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics (MATS) regulations under the Clean Air Act, which set limits on mercury emissions from power plants, the Obama administration does not believe that U.S. needs any new legislation on mercury so the Minimata Convention can be accepted as an executive agreement.


        In March 2011 the World Health Organization (WHO) launched an initiative to promote more rapid reductions in human exposure to carcinogens.  The initiative was launched at a conference on “Environmental and Occupational Determinants of Cancer: Interventions for Primary Prevention”  convened by the WHO the Asturias area of northwestern Spain.  It was organized by Maria Neira, director of the Public Health and Environment Division of the WHO.  The conference featured nearly 100 scientists, health journalists and NGO officials from 21 countries as well as a dozen WHO officials. 

        The conference marked the launch of a new WHO initiative to focus on primary prevention of cancer by controlling human exposure to toxic agents.  Despite bans on the use of asbestos in most of the developed world, asbestos use actually is increasing in developing countries such as China and India.  The power of global NGO networks to expose such practices in developing countries has forced all major multinational corporations out of the asbestos business, but it is still yielding windfall profits to less well known companies.  Shockingly, Canada is considering reopening an old asbestos mine to export more of this deadly product to poor countries.

        The conference concluded with the participants agreeing to The Asturias Pledge - A New Call to Action on Environmental and Occupational Cancer Prevention,.  A press release describing the initiative is online at: