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The International Lawyer

The International Lawyer, Volume 55, Number 3, 2022

"In Nature, Nothing Exists Alone": The Collaborative Fight Against Climate Change

Kayla Bright


  • Over the last century, the continuing development of scientific technology and research has forced scientists and policymakers to wrangle with two incontrovertible facts.
  • First, the Earth's climate is changing due to increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Second, these changes are directly attributable to human activity.
  • But what constitutes the phenomenon of climate change, and how has it transformed from a groundbreaking scientific theory to a major issue shaping global and national policy today?
"In Nature, Nothing Exists Alone": The Collaborative Fight Against Climate Change
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Benjamin Franklin once famously wrote that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Had Franklin lived in modern times, he might well have amended his notorious quip to state that only three things can be counted as certainties in this world: death, taxes, and climate change. Over the last century, the continuing development of scientific technology and research has forced scientists and policymakers to wrangle with two incontrovertible facts. First, the Earth’s climate is changing due to increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Second, these changes are directly attributable to human activity.

But what constitutes the phenomenon of climate change, and how has it transformed from a groundbreaking scientific theory to a major issue shaping global and national policy today? Modern understanding of climate change began in the 1950s with the work of Dr. Charles Keeling, an American scientist at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. At the start of Dr. Keeling’s scientific career, the environmental impact of humanity’s increasing reliance on fossil fuels was little more than a curiosity, a question for which scientists simply did not possess the methodology to produce an answer. No technology existed that would allow scientists to determine whether increased use of fossil fuels was causing a commensurate increase in carbon dioxide emissions. But “as a young researcher, Dr. Keeling built instruments and developed techniques that allowed him to achieve great precision” in measuring carbon dioxide levels.

In 1956, Dr. Keeling employed those instruments and techniques to pursue research that would lead to a major scientific breakthrough. He began taking air samples to measure their volume of carbon dioxide, and, through analyzing these samples, he “discovered that the earth itself was breathing”: that plants in the Northern Hemisphere took in carbon dioxide while they grew in the spring and summer months and then released it back into the environment as they died during the colder winter months. This cycle of growth and decay accounted for some seasonal fluctuation in environmental carbon dioxide levels, but, after establishing a permanent research outpost at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory, Dr. Keeling made a far more troubling discovery.

Analyzing data collected from the Mauna Loa Observatory over a period of years, Dr. Keeling learned that the peak level of atmospheric carbon dioxide was increasing every year, providing the first concrete evidence that “carbon dioxide was indeed rising, and quickly.” Such a rise has scientific significance because carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping pollutant, is a major contributor to the warming that results when generated heat is trapped in the atmosphere and cannot be released, often referred to as the “greenhouse effect.” Further analysis and chemical tests of Dr. Keeling’s samples “proved that the increase was due to the combustion of fossil fuels.”.

Dr. Keeling’s data was compiled into a graph known as the Keeling Curve, which remains relevant to climate science to this day. Beginning in the late 1950s and continuing into the present, the Keeling Curve displays the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere over time. While the Keeling Curve has “become a standard icon symbolizing the impact of humans on the planet,” the potential impact of the carbon dioxide increase that it shows is not beyond debate.

Many scientists believe that “if the amount of carbon dioxide doubles, the temperature of the earth will rise about five or six degrees Fahrenheit . . . represent[ing] an annual global average, and therefore an immense addition of heat to the planet,” which could lead to polar ice melting and sea levels rising. It is also theorized that “an increase as high as 18 degrees Fahrenheit, which would transform the planet,” is possible. But the eventuality of this massive heat increase is not universally accepted. A minority of scientists suggest that “the increase is likely to be less than two degrees Fahrenheit, a change they characterize as manageable,” even though “most climate scientists contend that little evidence supports this view.” And yet, even those scientists who hold this minority view “generally accept the rising carbon dioxide numbers, recognize that the increase is caused by human activity, and acknowledge that the earth is warming in response.”

Despite a small number of detractors, the prevailing consensus view of climate change is generally that action must be taken on global and national levels, both to mitigate its further impact and to help humans adapt to the consequences of the climate change that has already occurred. Frequently referenced risks of climate change include “melting ice sheets, rising seas, more droughts and heat waves, more flash floods, worse storms, extinction of many plants and animals, depletion of sea life and—perhaps most important—difficulty in producing an adequate supply of food.” While a number of these harms are already occurring, thus creating the need for the “adaptation” prong of climate change action, continually increasing levels of greenhouse gases may only worsen the severity of such consequences.

In response to the current and potential future effects of climate change, international bodies and individual nations have begun implementing plans and strategies for climate change mitigation and adaptation. To determine the efficacy and impact of such climate change action through its development, this paper will examine environmental law and climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies from both a global and a national perspective, analyzing the broader goals and frameworks developed through international cooperation, as well as the law and policy of individual nations taken in furtherance of achieving these goals.

I. An Introduction to Environmental Law and Climate Change Action

As Dr. Keeling’s research provided much of the scientific groundwork necessary to acknowledge the existence of human-driven climate change, international environmental law (particularly with regard to climate change action) has developed rapidly over the past century in response to these comparatively new discoveries. Before the world at large became aware of the impact of fossil fuels on the environment, there was functionally no body of international law governing environmental health or sustainability. Instead, the concept of national sovereignty governed the international sphere, and individual nations were left free to exercise control over their own natural resources, industries, and pollution output. The international agreements that did exist mainly focused on issues like boundary waters, navigation, and fishing rights. With the exception of a scant handful of transboundary agreements and treaties concerning air and water pollution, environmental health, sustainability, and safety concerns did not play any significant role in international relations during the early twentieth century.

But as the global scientific community at large became aware of Dr. Keeling’s results and began to conduct their own research on the environmental impact of fossil fuels, public knowledge of, and concern for, the impacts of climate change began to increase. Citizens of nations around the world began to demand climate change action and decry the harmful impact of human activities on the environment. Environmentalist ideals were brought into the public consciousness in a number of ways, spearheaded by activist engagement and the development of environmentally focused organizations. Greenpeace, for example, which calls itself “the first organization that linked the survival of the human race with the survival of the environment,” was established by a group of young Canadians in response to American nuclear testing in Alaska. Important cultural works like Silent Spring, a 1962 treatise on human-driven climate impact in which American author and environmentalist Rachel Carson “made a powerful case for the idea that if humankind poisoned nature, nature would in turn poison humankind,” further drew public attention to the developing environmental problems caused by human activity.

As public consciousness shifted to include climate change and the environment as major social and political issues due to the sociocultural revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s, global governing bodies began to heed the calls for action. This public opinion shift marked the first historical period in which the general public “became aware of the dangers threatening the planet.” While the national-sovereignty view had historically governed international relations in the field of environmental law, there were, nonetheless, a few basic tenets and normative principles at play in international environmental law that could be applied to climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. These tenets and principles, including state responsibility, “the ‘polluter pays’ principle, and the common heritage of humankind,” contributed significantly to global and national perspectives on climate change action, especially in its early development. And in 1972, as “environmental risks . . . bec[a]me more apparent and their assessment and management more complex,” the international community took its first steps toward crafting global solutions to environmental problems.

II. Global and International Action

The United Nations has played a major role in the development of international environmental law and climate change action through conferences, conventions, and treaty making, though, like many governmental bodies, it did not overly concern itself with environmental issues during the early twentieth century. Early environmental action undertaken by the United Nations mainly focused on “the adequacy of known natural resources to provide for the economic development of a large number of [United Nations] members or the ‘underdeveloped countries,’ as they were then termed.” The first United Nations action to address environmental issues originated from the 1949 United Nations Scientific Conference on the Conservation and Utilization of Resources, though the 1949 Conference eschewed any conservation principles, focusing instead on the management of such natural resources for “economic and social development.”

But the United Nations was not immune to the social and cultural demands of a public that was increasingly concerned with climate change and environmental issues and responded to the pressures and scientific developments of the mid-twentieth century through an Economic and Social Council meeting in 1968. The Council, in an unprecedented acknowledgment of environment and sustainability concerns by a United Nations body, specifically included environmental issues in its agenda and “decided—later endorsed by the General Assembly—to hold the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment.” This conference, held in Stockholm in 1972, marked the beginning of a new era for global environmental policymaking and climate change action.

A. The 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment

The 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (the Stockholm Conference) was “the first international intergovernmental conference to focus on environmental problems, and [. . .] had lasting consequences for the course of international environmental law.” The Stockholm Conference was the first to suggest that global environmental challenges could be addressed through international cooperation, “highlight[ing] the international aspects of emerging environmental challenges and legitimiz[ing] the environment as an area for international cooperation.” The Declaration produced by the Conference (the Stockholm Declaration) set forth twenty-six principles to be followed in the pursuit of environmental health and sustainability and acknowledged that “to defend and improve the human environment for present and future generations has become an imperative goal for mankind—a goal to be pursued together with, and in harmony with, the established and fundamental goals of peace and of worldwide economic and social development.” The Stockholm Conference broke new ground with respect to international collaboration as a response to environmental issues:

Many remember Stockholm as the modern birthplace of an international environmental legal regime. By the end of the conference, both developed and developing countries had adopted a declaration with 26 principles and an action plan with 109 recommendations, turning the environment into a major international issue for the first time . . . . The overall philosophy of the Stockholm Declaration was that the international community should consider the environmental factor and integrate it into the development process. The declaration acknowledges that the relationship between humans and their environment through history has changed such that modern humans can have a transformative effect on the environment.

The Stockholm Conference began the trend of international environmental law being governed by multinational accords, conventions, and agreements, generally spearheaded by international bodies such as the United Nations, which has continued to establish and develop multinational climate protocols like the Stockholm Declaration. But these protocols predominantly provide frameworks for individual nations to follow, setting broad goals while leaving nations free to choose their own means of implementation and compliance. While the Stockholm Conference was the first assembly of its kind, in which parties from around the globe gathered to address environmental issues, it was far from the last, indicating that the move toward a global consensus on environmental action is complicated and constantly evolving in response to new social, cultural, and economic pressures.

B. The 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development

To mark the twentieth anniversary of the Stockholm Conference, the United Nations held the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (the Rio Conference). The Rio Conference, commonly referred to as the “Earth Summit,” “brought together political leaders, diplomats, scientists, representatives of the media, and non-governmental organizations from 179 countries for a massive effort to focus on the impact of human socio-economic activities on the environment.” With the twenty-first century looming large, the Earth Summit provided the opportunity for stakeholders from around the world to come together and address progressive, forward-thinking strategies for sustainable growth and development.

To that end, “the primary objective of the Rio Earth Summit was to produce a broad agenda and a new blueprint for international action on environmental and development issues,” so that nations, both individually and as members of the global community, could strive toward “international cooperation and development policy in the twenty-first century.” The Earth Summit also emphasized the attainability of sustainable development for all citizens of the world, irrespective of their home countries or socioeconomic status, and recognized the vital importance of “integrating and balancing economic, social, and environmental concerns.”

The Earth Summit yielded many groundbreaking frameworks and agreements for sustainable development and environmental action. First and foremost, the Earth Summit produced Agenda 21, a non-binding resolution that created an exhaustively broad set of goals for sustainable development in the twenty-first century. Agenda 21 emphasized the “defining moment in history” at which humanity stands and suggested that paying greater heed to integrating environmental and developmental concerns would “lead to the fulfilment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future.”

Agenda 21 also highlighted the simultaneous need for individual national action and global cooperation to meet its goals, pointing out that “no nation can achieve this on its own; but together we can—in a global partnership for sustainable development.” Despite the need for this global partnership, Agenda 21 also emphasized that “its successful implementation is first and foremost the responsibility of Governments” and that “national strategies, plans, policies, and processes are crucial in achieving this,” with international cooperation as a sort of backbone to “support and supplement such national efforts.” This emphasis on the importance of individual national action makes it clear that, even with the global frameworks put into place by the United Nations, the onus for actually implementing effective policies to mitigate climate change remains squarely on national governing bodies.

Another significant result of the Earth Summit was the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC became effective on March 21, 1994, and 195 nations, known as “Parties” to the Convention, have ratified the Convention. Like Agenda 21, the UNFCCC is a set of non-binding resolutions and principles establishing a framework for future climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies and sustainable development practices. The goals of the UNFCCC were for its parties to “cooperatively consider what they could do to limit average global temperature increases and the resulting climate change, and to cope with whatever impacts were, by then, inevitable.”

The UNFCCC’s ultimate aim was to prevent “‘dangerous’ human interference with the climate system,” noting that “human activities have been substantially increasing the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases” and that such an increase will result in “an additional warming of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere and may adversely affect natural ecosystems and humankind.” Despite its acknowledgment of the importance of lowering greenhouse gas emissions across the globe, the UNFCCC treaty “is not legally binding because it sets no mandatory limits on [greenhouse gas] emissions.” In lieu of such limits, the treaty “provides for future negotiations to set emissions limits,” further signifying the status of international climate change action as an undertaking that will require constant ongoing action.

C. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol

After the implementation of the UNFCCC at the Earth Summit, the United Nations took its next major step in addressing global climate change mitigation through the creation of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The Kyoto Protocol furthered the UNFCCC’s recognition of the particular needs and concerns of developing countries, which are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and required the first round of Parties (Annex I Parties) to “provide information on how they are striving to meet their emissions targets while minimizing adverse impacts on developing countries.” The Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period set targets for emissions of the six main greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulphur hexafluoride), and Article 2 of the Protocol set out requirements for each Party to meet those targets. In order to comply with their emissions targets, Parties to the Protocol were given a maximum amount of permissible emissions over a commitment period, referred to as the Party’s “assigned amount.”

Despite its lofty goals, wide range of signatories, and carefully delineated emissions targets, the actual long-term impact of the Kyoto Protocol has been negligible. Even though it had been given an assigned amount in accordance with the Protocol’s emissions targets, the United States indicated its intent not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and formally dropped out in 2001. In 2011, Canada officially invoked its legal right to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol as well. Canadian Minister of Environment Peter Kent cited the failure of the United States and China to participate in the Protocol as indicative of its dysfunctionality, stating that “the Kyoto protocol does not cover the world’s largest two emitters, the United States and China, and therefore cannot work.” Kent further opined that the Kyoto Protocol was “not the path forward to a global solution to climate change. If anything, it’s an impediment.” In explaining Canada’s decision to formally withdraw, Kent emphasized that Canada produced “barely 2%” of global greenhouse gas emissions, and that it wanted a “fair agreement covering all nations.”

The withdrawal of the United States and Canada from the Kyoto Protocol highlights the potential failings of any non-binding treaty. When there are no consequences or binding mechanisms, parties may essentially come and go as they please, which all but guarantees that the treaty will not achieve its stated goals. In choosing to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, the United States and Canada also served as examples of how political concerns, both international and intranational, may influence nations’ decisions with respect to their participation in similar agreements. Perhaps in consideration of the ultimate inefficacy of the Kyoto Protocol, the United Nations began moving toward a more concrete set of rules and restrictions on emissions, with the ultimate goal of limiting the global temperature increase.

D. The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement

The United Nations’ next step in addressing global climate change action came with the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. The Paris Agreement continued to develop the guidelines established by the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol but took them a step further by locking its parties into a legally binding treaty. The Paris Agreement’s long-term goals were to “substantially reduce global greenhouse emissions to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2 degrees Celsius,” with further protocols to “review countries’ commitments every five years” while “provid[ing] financing to developing countries to mitigate climate change, strengthen resilience and enhance abilities to adapt to climate impacts.”

Under the Paris Agreement, the achievement of long-term emissions reduction goals is tied to nationally determined contributions (NDCs). NDCs “embody efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impact of climate change.” Article 4 of the Paris Agreement requires each Party to the Agreement to “prepare, communicate, and maintain successive nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that it intends to achieve.”. These NDCs require each individual nation-Party to pull its fair share of the weight in reducing overall global emissions, emphasizing the need for nations to work cooperatively to fulfill the long-term goals established by the Paris Agreement and to lower global greenhouse gas emissions quickly and efficiently.

But like the Kyoto Protocol before it, the ability of the Paris Agreement to live out its purpose was significantly hampered by the visible resistance of the United States. In December 2015, the United States announced that it would commit to the Paris Agreement, with President Barack Obama stating that fulfillment of the Agreement’s goals would ultimately create “a world that is safer and more secure, more prosperous, and more free.”. While the Obama administration viewed the Paris Agreement favorably, the American commitment to the Paris Agreement did not outlast the Obama presidency. President Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to pull the United States from the Paris Agreement and fulfilled that promise in June 2017, stating that the Paris Agreement “disadvantage[d] the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries” and that the United States would “cease all implementation [of the Agreement] and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on [the] country.” United Nations regulations prevented withdrawal from the Paris Agreement until three years after the date of its ratification, so, while President Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Agreement in 2017, the actual withdrawal of the United States from the Agreement did not become effective until November 2020.

After a turbulent first term, President Trump failed to win reelection, losing the presidency to Joe Biden, who formerly served as Vice President under President Obama. President Biden, who does not share his predecessor’s distaste for the Paris Agreement, promised during his campaign that America would promptly rejoin the Paris Agreement if he won the presidential election, a promise that he fulfilled by executive order on the first day of his presidency. When the United States’ Party status was restored, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken called the Paris Agreement an “unprecedented framework for global action . . . [to] help us all avoid catastrophic planetary warming and to build resilience around the world to the impacts from climate change we already see.”

While it is undoubtedly fortunate that the United States has once again rejoined the Paris Agreement as a Party, the American response to the Paris Agreement highlights some of the inherent failings of such multinational accords. Is a system of international cooperation the proper method for addressing climate change, and, if so, what should the expectations be for members of such an international system? How should the global community respond to “holdout” nations such as the United States, especially when those nations are responsible for such a significant proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions? Further, the American response to the Paris Agreement makes clear that, while international bodies like the United Nations may create forward-thinking frameworks and guidelines in an attempt to mitigate the impact of climate change, such institutions are essentially toothless in the face of individual nations’ refusal to participate absent a rigorous enforcement scheme.

E. The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference

With the United States returned to the fold and once again participatory in international attempts at climate change adaptation and mitigation, the global community continued its push for more efficacious international accords at the 26th Annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), held in Glasgow during the summer of 2021. The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic made COP26 a logistically challenging summit, but, with the United Kingdom occupying the presidential role to organize events, COP26 “brought together 120 world leaders and over 40,000 registered participants, including 22,274 party delegates, 14,124 observers, and 3,886 media representatives.” The most significant policy accomplishment emerging from COP26 was the Glasgow Climate Pact.

The Glasgow Pact is essentially a louder version of the same call to action that the United Nations has been sounding for decades. It emphasizes that reducing global warming to a target increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius will require “rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions,” which can only happen through “accelerated action in this critical decade, on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge and equity.” The Glasgow Pact explicitly calls upon its parties to “accelerate the development, deployment and dissemination of technologies, and the adoption of policies, to transition towards low-emission energy systems” through measures including clean power generators and the phase out of fossil fuels and “unabated coal power.” The importance of the “international community” is further emphasized for powerful nations, who are encouraged to provide “enhanced support, including through financial resources, technology transfer and capacity-building, to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation.”

The Glasgow Pact’s call to action is both legal and political, going beyond international cooperation to urge specific action at national, regional, and local levels: Parties are encouraged to “take an integrated approach to addressing the issues referred to . . . above in national and local policy and planning decisions.” The Pact also explicitly recognizes the important role that non-Party stakeholders, including local communities and local and regional governments, must play in “contributing to progress towards the objective of the Convention and the goals of the Paris Agreement.” Bearing the importance of such stakeholders in mind, the Glasgow Pact arguably goes further than any previous United Nations convention or treaty in its open encouragement for individual nations, as well as their political subdivisions and other stakeholders, to take an active part in addressing climate change and implementing adaptation and mitigation strategies within their own borders.

F. Using Global Goal-Setting to Inform National Policy Decisions

While the international measures of the Stockholm Conference, the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement, and the Glasgow Pact set forth broad global goals for mitigating the impact of climate change, they provide little specific guidance with regard to the practical means by which those goals may be achieved. Each of the foundational United Nations actions discussed above not only permit but also require that individual nations use their own mechanisms for policy and procedure as they work toward accomplishing the goals established by these international agreements. To that end, many nations have filled the intentional gaps left by United Nations frameworks, treaties, and accords by crafting their own policy schemes for climate change adaptation and mitigation.

III. Responses and Action from Individual Nations

Following the Paris Agreement and COP26, many nations reaffirmed their commitments to climate change adaptation and mitigation through legislative action. While the accords discussed above created international goals regarding lowering emissions, increasing sustainability, and combatting climate change generally, and while their signatory Parties have expressed a firm commitment to achieving these goals, specific implementation measures are left in the hands of each nation-Party’s policymakers.

These implementation measures may come in the form of national schemes to curb greenhouse gas emissions, new government departments or agencies created specifically to address climate change mitigation, the promulgation of low-emissions technology, or further regulation of industries with a historically negative environmental impact. As made clear by Agenda 21, “national strategies, plans, policies, and processes are crucial” in making positive progress against the impacts of climate change. Thus, to determine the efficacy of global climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts, it is necessary to examine the policies and procedures taken by individual nations to create a more sustainable and environmentally sound future. Canada, Israel, Australia, and the United States have each promulgated their own policy schemes for adaptation and mitigation in compliance with their commitments under the Paris Agreement and the Glasgow Pact.

A. Canada: The Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act of 2021

In accordance with its ratification of the Paris Agreement, Canada formalized its commitment to attaining net-zero emissions by 2050 through the passing of the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act of 2021 (the Canadian Act). Net-zero emissions require that a balance be reached between “the carbon—and other global warming gases such as methane and nitrous oxide—emitted from burning fossil fuels . . . [and] the carbon removed from the atmosphere and stored,” and reaching net zero is considered a vital goal in the battle to mitigate the impact of climate change. As stated in the Canadian Act, “the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is key to keeping the rise in the global-mean temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and minimizing climate-change related risks.”

The Canadian Act “enshrines in legislation the Government of Canada’s commitment to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and provides a framework of accountability and transparency to deliver on it.” The Canadian Act enables Canada’s Minister of Environment to set five-year targets for emissions levels beginning in 2030. It also sets the ultimate goal of putting Canada on track to drop its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, in accordance with the Glasgow Pact’s stated timeline and the Paris Agreement’s nationally determined contributions.

To achieve this goal, the Canadian Act creates a number of provisions enabling Canada to make continuous progress toward reaching net-zero emissions, including: (1) establishing an advisory body to provide guidance for the Minister of Environment regarding the achievement of net-zero emissions by 2050; (2) requiring the creation and implementation of a full emissions reduction plan, as well as progress reports and assessment reports with respect to each target; and (3) imposing a requirement that Canada’s Finance Minister prepare an annual report on “key measures that the federal public administration has taken to manage its financial risks and measures aimed at mitigating climate change.” .

In acknowledgment of the ever-shifting nature of environmental law and climate change adaptation and mitigation tactics, the Canadian Act requires a comprehensive review of the Act five years after its coming into force and also requires that, at least once every five years, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development “examine and report on the Government of Canada’s implementation of measures aimed at mitigating climate change.” Notably, the Canadian Act provides no specific methods for the “how” of scaling back emissions but creates provisional checks, including the five-year check-ins and the Finance Minister’s annual reports, instead. These provisional checks essentially alter the structure of Canada’s governmental approach to climate change action and create long-term oversight and accountability toward meeting Canada’s commitment to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

B. Israel: Government Resolution 171

Like the Canadian Act, Israel’s Government Resolution 171: Beyond a Low Carbon Economy (the Israeli Resolution) was passed as a policy complement to strengthened Party commitments to emissions reduction made with the signing of the Paris Agreement. It was promulgated and approved in the months leading up to COP26. The Israeli Resolution “recognizes the importance of reaching the target of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in accordance with the Paris Agreement” and sets goals to aggressively pursue that target. It updates Israel’s national greenhouse gas emissions targets, shifting the goalposts from Israel’s earlier goal of a low-carbon economy, by officially committing to the pursuit of net-zero emissions. Using the 2015 levels of national emissions as a baseline, the plan outlined in the Resolution seeks to reduce national emissions by at least eighty percent over the next thirty years by “slashing vehicle usage and taking bold steps toward getting almost all its energy from renewable resources.”

In addition to its updated emissions targets, the Israeli Resolution also sets sector-based targets for reducing emissions across multiple industries. By setting these targets, the Israeli Resolution creates specific methods that will be used in varied facets of Israeli life to minimize the country’s emissions on a day-to-day basis, taking emissions reduction from theoretical to actual. This combination of updated emissions targets and sector-specific mitigation methods will require a significant investment of resources, including “investment in renewable energy infrastructure, finding sufficient surface area for setting up solar panels, technological advancement . . . and the passing of necessary regulations.”

In its Resolution, Israel codifies its intent to reduce emissions from solid waste, reduce the amount of municipal waste dumped, reduce emissions from electricity production, halt the increase in transportation emissions by limiting the amount of emissions permissible in new vehicles, and setting a target date of 2026, by which all Israeli city buses will be “clean” vehicles. The Israeli Resolution’s emphasis on lowering transport emissions reflects the general scientific consensus that the transport sector is a major contributor to global emissions: Data from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that direct emissions from the transport sector were responsible for “approximately 23% of total energy-related CO2 emissions.” The targeted waste reduction is also significant, as “at present, fully four-fifths of the garbage generated in Israel ends up in landfills.” By targeting two sectors that each have the potential for such high impact in emissions reduction, the Israeli Resolution, if followed to its letter, sets the stage for positive results.

By setting new goals for high-emissions industries and practices within its borders, the Israeli Resolution highlights one way in which individual nations may use policy and regulation to pursue global emissions targets, with the framework of global accords providing guidance with regard to precisely what those targets should be. The Resolution encapsulates the widely accepted climate change action methods of adaptation and mitigation, creating significant adaptations to Israeli industries and day-to-day life, while also providing mitigation tactics to minimize the future harms of climate change and high emissions.

C. Australia: The Long-Term Emissions Reduction Plan

When the national schemes of Canada and Israel are analyzed, it is clear that individual countries have some measure of agreement with regard to the ultimate goal of emissions reduction, driven by the long-term aims of international accords like the Paris Agreement and the Glasgow Pact. But the question remains—What actions should nations take to pursue that goal? In 2021, Australia sought to address that question by promulgating its own Long-Term Emissions Reduction Plan (the Australian Plan) in preparation for COP26. The Australian Plan echoes the Canadian Act and the Israeli Resolution in reaffirming its national commitment to the long-term pursuit of drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reversing the course of global warming.

The Australian Plan, released in October 2021 by Australia’s Prime Minister and Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction, “sets out a credible pathway to net zero by 2050, while preserving . . . existing industries, establishing Australia as a leader in low emissions technologies, and positioning [Australian] regions to prosper.” It is described as a whole-of-economy, technology-driven plan that is guided by five principles: “(1) technology, not taxes, (2) expand choices, not mandates, (3) drive down the cost of a range of new technologies, (4) keep energy prices down with affordable and reliable power, and (5) be accountable for progress.”

These five principles emphasize the intranational pressures that a government may face in the creation and implementation of a climate change mitigation strategy. Loss of jobs in traditionally high-emissions sectors, such as transport and fossil fuels, is frequently cited as a potentially major consequence of a shift toward greener, more environmentally conscious national and regional policies. But, while the Australian Plan specifically references the potential negative impact of climate change mitigation tactics on the Australian economy, it also assures Australians that the plan “will not shut down coal or gas production, or require displacement of productive agricultural land,” nor will it “put industries, regions, or jobs at risk.”

By addressing these concerns head on, the Australian Plan both reflects and assuages a common concern—that any strategies created for climate change adaptation and mitigation will carry a heavy cost, causing severe disadvantages for members of the working class in industries like agriculture or fossil fuel production. It specifically addresses the potential costs of climate change adaptation and mitigation and incorporates strategies to keep those costs low, namely through taking official action to drive down the cost of low emissions technologies. According to the Australian Plan:

Australia has identified and prioritised low emissions technologies that will open net-zero pathways for our economic sectors. The Government is working with business, researchers and other nations to reduce the cost of these technologies so that they become the rational choice for business and consumers. The technologies prioritised through Australia’s Technology Investment Roadmap can contribute and enable around half the emissions reductions needed to achieve net zero. They are: clean hydrogen, ultra low-cost solar, energy storage, low emissions steel and aluminum, carbon capture and storage, [and] soil carbon.

Under the roadmap created by the Australian Plan, “at least $20 billion of Australian Government investment in low emissions technologies” is expected to occur before 2030. In addition to its commitment to low emissions technology investment, the Australian Plan also lays out critical pathways to net zero in a number of Australian economic sectors. For example, the electricity sector will move toward net zero through the use of low emissions electricity, alternative fuels, and energy storage, while the transport sector will implement electrification and alternative fuels and the agriculture sector will make use of land-based solutions and other emerging technologies.

While the Australian Plan is still in the early phases of implementation, it shows significant promise. Because Australia prioritizes the cost-efficient development and promulgation of low emissions technology and simultaneously seeks out ways to lower the impact of traditionally high-impact economic sectors, it is on track to reduce its emissions well beyond its previously set targets. In fact, Australia, under the guidance of the Plan, is already forecast to match or outpace the per capita emissions reductions of “many other developed economies including Canada, the European Union, Japan and the United States.”

The potential success of the Australian Plan indicates that, where national policy for climate change adaptation and mitigation is concerned, individual countries may best position themselves for a positive outcome when they craft strategies for the creation of new and vital partnerships with public and private entities. These partnerships, such as Australia’s collaboration with businesses, researchers, and other nations, can encourage the development of low emissions technologies and lower the cost of those technologies. Moreover, the yields of these partnerships, as the Australian Plan demonstrates, may be applied to a variety of economic sectors, permitting critical and historically high-emissions industries like electricity, transport, and agriculture to thrive without compromising the ultimate goal of lower emissions nationwide.

D. The United States: Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Build Back Better Bill

After the election of President Joe Biden and the United States’ reentry into the Paris Agreement, climate change mitigation once again became a functional political priority for the United States. The Biden administration has emphasized that “creating jobs and tackling climate change go hand in hand—empowering the U.S. to build more resilient infrastructure, expand access to clean air and drinking water, spur American technological innovations, and create good-paying, union jobs along the way.” Like the Australian Plan, the American government’s approach to climate change mitigation under President Biden stresses that a move toward more sustainable development will not cause job losses or other detrimental economic impact. Promulgating legislation to tackle the climate change crisis has been a major priority for the Biden administration, which manifested itself in the passing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (the Infrastructure Act).

The Infrastructure Act is a massive piece of legislation that aims to “rebuild America’s roads, bridges and rails, expand access to clean drinking water, ensure every American has access to high-speed internet, tackle the climate crisis, advance environmental justice, and invest in communities that have too often been left behind.” As such, the Act’s provisions go well beyond the scope of traditional climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies and address a number of other infrastructural concerns. But the Act, in conjunction with President Biden’s executive actions regarding climate change, fulfills an important role in terms of creating more sustainable infrastructure and technologies, as well as making sizable investments in sectors related to sustainability and environmental impact. Section 11401 of the Act provides:

The purpose of this section is to establish a grant program to strategically deploy publicly accessible electric vehicle charging infrastructure, hydrogen fueling infrastructure, propane fueling infrastructure, and natural gas fueling infrastructure along designated alternative fuel corridors or in certain other locations that will be accessible to all drivers of electric vehicles, hydrogen vehicles, propane vehicles, and natural gas vehicles.

As discussed above, the transport sector constitutes a significant percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, transportation emissions make up a larger percentage of emissions in the United States than in the global average, with recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data suggesting that “transportation accounted for the largest portion (29%) of total U.S. [greenhouse gas (GHG)] emissions in 2019.” Approximately fifty-eight percent of those emissions came from light-duty vehicles like standard passenger cars, while an additional twenty-four percent came from medium- and heavy-duty trucks. The remaining eighteen percent is attributed to aircraft, rail, ships and boats, and other miscellaneous forms of transportation. The Infrastructure Act’s grant program for charging and fueling infrastructure seems specifically focused on targeting those forms of transportation, which are the most significant emissions “offenders,” drawing a parallel to the Australian Plan’s targeting of traditionally high-impact sectors. Eligibility for a grant under the Infrastructure Act requires the submission of an application containing evidence that the applying entity has considered:

(i) public accessibility of charging or fueling infrastructure proposed to be funded with a grant under this subsection [. . .] (ii) collaborative engagement with stakeholders (including automobile manufacturers, utilities, infrastructure providers, technology providers, electric charging, hydrogen, propane, and natural gas fuel providers, metropolitan planning organizations, States, Indian tribes, and units of local governments, fleet owners, fleet managers, fuel station owners and operators, labor organizations, infrastructure construction and component parts suppliers, and multi-State and regional entities).

The partnerships discussed in the section above are reminiscent of the partnerships driven by the Australian Plan, which have been successful in enabling Australia to stay on target to meet its stated emissions reduction goals. The Infrastructure Act’s stated aim in promulgating such partnerships is “to foster enhanced, coordinated, public-private or private investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure, hydrogen fueling infrastructure, propane fueling infrastructure, or natural gas fueling infrastructure.” As in the Australian Plan, these public-private collaborations to specifically target high-impact sectors like transport may permit the United States to achieve President Biden’s stated goal of reaching “a 50-52 percent reduction from 2005 levels in economy-wide net greenhouse gas pollution in 2030.”

In addition to the various forward-thinking infrastructure measures, the Infrastructure Act also includes preventative adaptation measures aimed at curtailing the negative effects of climate change on the American people as a whole. In 2020 alone, “the United States faced 22 extreme weather and climate-related disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each—a cumulative price tag of nearly $100 billion.” Rather than focusing solely on mitigation by way of emissions reduction or the development of sustainable technology, the Infrastructure Act also includes adaptation provisions to “make [American] infrastructure resilient against the impacts of climate change, cyber-attacks, and extreme weather events.” The Infrastructure Act authorizes a $3.5 billion appropriation for the weatherization assistance program established under the Energy Conservation and Production Act for fiscal year 2022. It further provides for “an investment of over $50 billion to protect against droughts, heat, floods and wildfires.”

While the Infrastructure Act’s provisions make important strides toward adapting to and mitigating the impacts of climate change and creating more sustainable infrastructure throughout the United States, another piece of legislation stands to create an even greater investment in American climate change action. President Biden’s arguably most significant legislative priority, the Build Back Better Act (the BBB Act), aims to incorporate “the largest effort to combat climate change in history.” This effort includes the provision of consumer rebates and tax credits for middle class families shifting to clean energy and electrification, the creation of targeted incentives to grow and strengthen domestic supply chains in renewable energy industries like solar and wind, the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps to bolster job growth, and further investment in climate-conscious agriculture measures that could impact “roughly 130 million cropland acres per year, representing as many as 240,000 farms.”

But, as lofty as the goals advanced by the BBB Act are, the bill has faced significant opposition from members of Congress, and its passage has been stymied by legislative hurdles and resistance from both sides of the political aisle. West Virginia’s Democratic senator, Joe Manchin, an outspoken opponent of the bill, stated that “despite [his] best efforts, [he] cannot explain the sweeping Build Back Better Act in West Virginia and [he] cannot vote to move forward on this mammoth piece of legislation.” Even though Senator Manchin is a member of President Biden’s own political party, he broke party ranks by disavowing the BBB Act, claiming that he could not countenance the high cost at upwards of $4.5 trillion and expressing concerns that it would “risk the reliability of our electric grid and increase our dependence on foreign supply chains [. . .] to [reduce emissions] at a rate that is faster than technology or the markets allow,” which “will have catastrophic consequences for the American people.”

Senator Manchin’s refusal to support the BBB Act not only serves as a “potentially fatal blow to President Joe Biden’s leading domestic initiative” but also is also illustrative of the roadblocks individual nations may face when they seek to implement broad, sweeping reforms for climate change adaptation and mitigation. While the BBB Act, like the Infrastructure Act, is a huge piece of legislation containing provisions that go well beyond climate-related issues, the fact remains that the portions of the Act supporting decisive environmental action to mitigate and adapt to the impact of climate change are essentially dead in the water until they are either separated from the Act and passed as separate legislation or the Act itself manages to pass through both houses of Congress successfully. As global accords set optimistic goals for the lowering of emissions and transition to more sustainable, environmentally friendly international frameworks, it must always be remembered that such progress may be hindered on a national level by the doubts or concerns of even a few elected officials.

IV. A Final Analysis of Global and Individual National Action

In analyzing the legislation discussed above, as well as the international accords that provide the framework for the majority of national climate change action, it becomes clear that, in order for climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts to be effective, there must be global cooperation toward a common goal, as well as legislative policy actions from individual nations. Global accords such as the Paris Agreement and the Glasgow Pact provide frameworks within which nations may join together to address the challenges of climate change. But the goals created by these frameworks must be pursued by each individual nation through its own policymaking apparatus. Global accords have no efficacy if nations do not work individually to accomplish them, but the work of any one nation will not have the requisite mitigating impact on climate change as a whole. Without both the structure of global accords and the worldwide impact of many individual nations working within their own political structures to pursue a common goal, strategies for climate change adaptation and mitigation are functionally doomed to fail.

When considering how best to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, partnership must be the ultimate aim. The words of Rachel Carson are as true and applicable today as they were when Silent Spring was first published in 1962: “In nature, nothing exists alone.” Citizens of nations around the globe may have different values, priorities, or beliefs. Nonetheless, all living beings must share one earth, and, as its ongoing health impacts each and every individual who lives in it, measures to ensure environmental stability must be globally collaborative. As Agenda 21 makes clear, “no nation can achieve this on its own; but together we can—in a global partnership for sustainable development.” National parties must join together at the proverbial table to set emissions targets and sustainability goals for the whole world and then return home to begin accomplishing those goals through political action, developing partnerships between private and public entities to build a sustainable, environmentally friendly future that is inclusive of all parties, all nations, and, ultimately, all of humanity.