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The United Nations Climate Change Regime Thirty Years on -- A Retrospective and Assessment
Dan Bodansky
62 Washburn Law Journal 1 (2022)
Open Access  |  Library Access


The UN climate change regime celebrated its thirtieth anniversary earlier this year. During those three decades, there has been much sound and fury--the threatened breakdown of the Bali Conference in 2007 over a mislaid comma; the all-night negotiation of the Copenhagen Accord two years later by twenty-eight world leaders; the narrowly averted collapse of the conference the following day, as one delegate banged her hand so hard on the table in objection to the Accord's adoption that it became bloody; the last minute question about a single “shall” in the text of the Paris Agreement, which nearly scuttled the entire agreement. But does all this drama signify anything? Thus far, despite all of the agreed words on paper, there has been little if any change in the upward trajectory of global greenhouse gas emissions. Is the Paris Agreement likely to change this? After many false starts, is the regime finally on track to successfully address the climate change problem?

This Article provides a retrospective assessment of the regime at age thirty. It consists of five parts. Part I reviews the key stages in the development of the UN climate change regime. Part II discusses how, despite considerable changes in the world, the climate change regime has stayed much the same. Part III analyzes why the climate change issue has been so intractable. Part IV introduces three models of how international law might address the climate change problem. Part V concludes with a report card on how the regime is doing on its thirtieth anniversary
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