Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The US is Bound by Law to Honor Climate Change Treaty

Although the Copenhagen Accord set no overall emissions targets, the US is bound by law to honor its international committment to emissions-reduction.

In 1992 the US signed a UN sponsored treaty intended to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. It was ratified by the US congress and subsequently entered into force on March 21, 1994.

The treaty is known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC). This international environmental treaty was produced at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), informally known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro from 3 to 14 June 1992.

The US is bound by its signature on the 1992 treaty and this is legally binding under US law. According to The American Society of International Law, the members of the United Nations, including the US, have accepted the authority of the U.N.'s principal judicial organ, the International Court of Justice, which includes article 38.

The statute states, "The Court, whose function is to decide in accordance with international law such disputes as are submitted to it, shall apply [among other sources] international conventions [i.e. treaties], whether general or particular, establishing rules expressly recognized by the contesting states."

US action on climate change remains critical for a global deal and although we did not find the formula for a binding agreement at COP15, the US is still beholden to its treaty obligations.

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