Welcome to the Roundtable, a forum for incisive commentary and analysis
on cases and developments in law and the legal system.
on cases and developments in law and the legal system.
By Marco DiLeonardo
Marco DiLeonardo is a junior a the University of Pennsylvania studying International Relations.
The environment encompasses a wealth of natural resources, a seemingly bottomless pit of waste, and a foundation to industries such as tourism. It is cast aside in the modern age of technology and industrialization as a mere inconvenience to a global, interdependent economy. It benefits all, yet the costs are attributed to no individual. Through the large scale manufacturing of the current world order, the environment is in peril due to climate change. This global phenomenon is nearly impossible to address due to the vast, complex, and interdependent markets and polarized differences in opinion on how to approach the issue.
Specific countries have no stake or benefit in protecting the environment, only costs. Moreover, there is the concern of violating national sovereignty in international environmental regulation. Finally, there are divergences in the North-South dilemma: the countries in the North tend to be at a more advanced stage of financial and political development, while the Southern hemisphere features fragile, fledgling economies. Since the focal point of environmental pollution is the external effects of producing energy, the only method to combat climate change is through a novel, inexpensive, and clean alternative.
The principal issue in addressing climate change is national sovereignty and international law. The underlying factors of a country’s jurisdiction derive from national practice and nondiscrimination. National practice can be defined as the authority to establish social or environmental regulations as a state sees fit. Moreover, a country cannot dictate the policy of another country without infringing upon this right. While these principles are associated with the free rider problem, they are also related to the “tragedy of the global commons.” This term is used to the describe the manner in which countries interact with the domain of international resources but none are willing to sacrifice their own economic success for environmental regulations.  When unowned, raw materials represent the global commons, each individual country exploits them, some more than others.
While increasing production benefits a country, enforcing environmental regulations causes the country’s economy to suffer. Since national practice does not allow outside influences in national policy, the result becomes a gridlock, also known as the prisoner’s dilemma. Most importantly, however, due to the nondiscrimination clause realized through the World Trade Organization and international law, states cannot impose sanctions or demonstrate prejudice against another on their basis of national practice, namely environmental policy. To enforce a worldwide rate to limit pollution would put an unrealistic burden on those countries generating large amounts of pollution, like China, as opposed to a country with minimal pollution, such as Switzerland.  This imposition would violate national practice, nondiscrimination, and subsequently national sovereignty and domestic law.
The final point of dispute in addressing climate change arises in the analysis of the differences between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres of the globe. As of 2011, the National Bureau of Economic Research has released statistics that demonstrate the North’s control of the global economy. With an advantage of 64.4% to 35.6% in GDP, the Northern hemisphere boasts an overwhelming advantage in the international market.  Generally, states in the North are at a more advanced stage of development while countries in the South have emerging, unstable economies with weak industrial sectors. Stricter environmental regulations limit the growth of these incipient economies.
An argument brought about by developing economies in resisting regulative measures is that limitations result from an inherent bias against the South and the desire of the North to limit rapidly growing economies such as India and Brazil. Furthermore, to limit waste production in industrializing countries would be “unfair,” since mature advanced economies like the United States were not subject to these restraints at the same stage of development. As a result, developing states refuse to compromise their productivity by preventing pollution.
In my opinion, the key to resolving the issue of climate change has one foreseeable solution: a technological innovation for an alternative, inexpensive, and clean energy source. Neither theories propose a solution to climate change, but the realist point of view is more sound relative to liberalism. The current measures taken by the IPCC are demonstrated by the 2014 G20 summit in November. Japan and the United States will invest four billion dollars with the support of other developed and developing countries.  However, this strategy is strictly based on capital to aid countries’ response to global warming, not on the pursuit of a technological solution. This strategy is endorsed by all developed countries.
Without the participation of the major polluters, this approach will never succeed. The only viable alternative is a technology that satisfies the needs of all actors: an inexpensive, renewable, and clean source of energy. As most pollution is a result of the externality of producing and consuming energy, this could curb the damage to the environment.
 Hardin, Garett. The Tragedy of the Global Commons, 1245.
 Martin, Emily. Top 10 Cleanest Countries in the World, 3.
 Wang, Jin, et al. The Contribution of China, India and Brazil to Narrowing North-South Differences in GDP/capita, 23.
 Hurst, Daniel. G20: Japan Pledges $1.5bn to Climate Change Fund after Trilateral Meeting, 4.
The opinions and views expressed through this publication are the opinions of the designated authors and do not reflect the opinions or views of the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal, our staff, or our clients.