theresamarg asked: Hey! I'm a high school senior writing a paper for government and chose to write about the Environment. I'm pretty passionate about it, wanting to become an environmental engineer. I have already cited you a few times, but was wondering if you had any helpful thoughts on the U.S. vs the U.N. as far as future protection laws concern... Or anything you think is worth adding to my paper! Thank you so much! I really look up to you and love your blog! Have a nice day! :)
Sounds like a very good paper. And quite challenging. I don’t know your background, so it’s hard for me to know what advice to give you.
The major difference between U.S. and UN environmental protection is that the UN does not make formal “laws.” This is an important thing to grasp as you shape your paper.
US vs UN environmental law
How does the UN enforce treaties
I presume (again, I don’t know) that you’ll write a bit comparing the two, side-by-side. The U.S. is one country, with citizens and land. The UN is not a country, has no residents, no borders, and contains no lands. The U.S. federal and state governments are allowed to make law. The UN is not allowed to make any laws.
There are some minor exceptions.
First, core to the UN’s mission is to encourage its 193 members to create and enforce their own laws based primarily on human rights. These laws are enforced at the country level, and in no way can the UN intervene on enforcement of these laws (with the exception of war and conflict, where members vote on intervention or humanitarian aid).
The ICJ usually deals with human rights, genocide, and war crimes. It seldom enforces international treaty violations, and rarely enforces environmental treaties (mostly because violators are easily identified and their home countries and the polluted territories have jurisdiction).
So, basically, the ICJ tries hard to push any dispute back to the country level.
When that fails, then several special panels hold a series of votes to help decide jurisdiction, applicable procedural rules, and possible alternatives (usually there are alternatives).
The third exception is when the UN has to sue itself! That is a big hot mess, and I’d avoid writing about it like the plague. (If you must, go here.)
I’m being very generic, and I’m sure I’ll get a blistering message from some of my keen-eyed readers, but you get the point I hope!
This is all to say that the UN has no formally recognized environmental law jurisdiction (in fact, the UN attempted to create an environmental court, called the Environmental Chamber. But no country brought a single case during the Chamber’s 13 years of existence. It was dissolved in 2006. For the history of the Environmental Chamber, see: here).
Again, I’m being very general here. You’re more than welcome to contact me via email if you have more specific questions.
In a confusing Press Release, the United Nations urges countries to protect AND develop the Arctic as glaciers and ice melt. On the one hand, the PR urges stronger legal and environmental regulations. On the other, it urges northern countries to cooperate as they exploit the Arctic’s vast resources of oil, gas, minerals, and fish: “the Arctic Council …is formed by Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US has a crucial role to play in ensuring any resource exploitation is done responsibly.”
This is result of a 1 degree Celsius rise in temperatures. The chart is from the World Bank and it shows the rate of melting ice from 1983 to 2012. The temperature across the world is expected to rise by nearly 4 degrees Celsius, which greatly exceeds the above impacts.
Turn Down the Heat, a new report from the World Bank, presents the many compelling reasons why we need to avoid a 4 degree Celsius temperature increase (the trajectory we are currently on to reach by the end of this century.)
This troubling graphic from the NSIDC shows just how quickly climate change has already taken a toll on arctic sea ice since 1983.
But, there are two buckets of trouble here. First is the nearly endless troubles from melting ice on human and natural environments. Mass ice melt causes sea level rise, which destroys coastlines, habitat, deltas, mangroves, coral reefs, and of course cities and tourism.
Melting glaciers will also disrupt the flow of rivers, aquifer recharge, and electricity (hydropower and nuclear power). Many rivers around the world get their water from glaciers, and the same holds for aquifers, which fuel drinking water and irrigation supplies to billions around the world.
Take the glaciers in the Andes mountains for one example. Several have already disappeared, completely melting away. They’re melting faster than scientists predicted, and Peru has asked the United States for emergency funds to build damns to contain the water produced from the last remaining glaciers. The damns, in other words, would store the water rather than glaciers. There are too many to list here, but the effects are enormous.
The second problem is much simpler, but deeply embarrassing: 4 degree Celsius. Americans do not understand Celsius, they understand (sort of) temperature in terms of Fahrenheit.
Nearly all climate change reporting focuses on 2 to 4 degrees Celsius. We hear it so often from the UN, IPCC, even the US National Climate Assessment quotes Celsius. The problem is that it is not true!
The projected rise in temperatures will vary across the globe. Temperatures in New England are expected to rise by nearly 6-10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of 2100. But this isn’t the case for the Pacific Northwest, where temperatures are expected to rise by as little as 4 degrees Fahrenheit.
So, not only is reporting one common number (2 degrees Celsius) confusing for Americans, it’s not even a relevant number. As comical and embarrassing as those facts are, there’s no escaping American Ignorance.
This is a major communications problem that scientists just do not grasp. American’s think in terms of their own communities and regions. New England will not feel the same types of impacts as the Southwest, and the folks in each of these regions think very little of the temperatures elsewhere. (I know, there are a few exceptions).
Why did I bring this Celsius vs Fahrenheit issue up? The United States is the most powerful country in the world (despite our education and health deficiencies). The rest of the world, including the World Bank, which put out the above report on climate, requires U.S. support. Climate change solutions require American support. And if scientists refuse to speak the native language, no one is going to listen…
Thanks for your note. Yeah, check out research from UNESCO-IHE.
I did a great project with them in the Netherlands this past spring. They’re the world experts on water security and policy issues. Dig around the site, there are many links to partner orgs that do good research on exactly the issue you bring up.
I was glad to see more than 200 people in the audience for a discussion on water, peace, and security on the margins of the 67th meetings of the UN General Assembly yesterday. The United States, the European Union, and UN-Water co-sponsored the event, which drew senior representatives from governments, UN agencies, and international financial institutions. Secretary Clinton, whose remarks closed the event, has made water issues a priority in our diplomatic and development efforts, and I have been pleased to lead those efforts for the State Department.
Citing the findings in a recently released United States Intelligence Community Assessment on Global Water Security, Secretary Clinton noted… more »
On Wednesday 20 June, 2012 17-year-old Brittany Trilford of Wellington, New Zealand addressed 130 heads of state at the opening plenary of the Rio+20 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This is her speech.
The United Nations has a straight talk tumblr. Really appreciate their posts.
The numbers tell the story. Over the last twenty years, it is conservatively estimated that disasters have killed 1.3 million people, affected 4.4 billion and resulted in economic losses of $2 trillion.
These are staggering numbers when you consider what it means in terms of missed opportunities, shattered lives, lost housing, schools and health facilities destroyed, cultural losses and roads washed away.
A blog about the interactions between the built environment, people, and nature.
I'm a climate change consultant specializing in climate adaptation, environmental law, and urban planning based in the U.S. In addition to traveling and hiking, I research, publish, and lecture on how cities can adapt to climate change.
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