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Stephen L. Kass

It has now been 26 years since the United States signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 24 years since the UNFCCC went into effect after its ratification by the United States (and now 165 other countries) and 11 years since the U.S. Supreme Court held, in Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), that the Environmental Protection Agency had an affirmative duty under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas (GHG) pollutant. Yet the United States has failed to implement any meaningful federal program to reduce its GHG emissions despite its UNFCCC treaty obligations, its Supreme Court ruling and increasing scientific certainty that our nation’s GHG increasing emissions are already contributing to rapid changes in the earth’s atmosphere and oceans and, as a result, significant impacts to human life and the environment in the United States and abroad. This column considers whether those nations most directly affected by U.S. inaction on climate change might have an enforceable legal remedy against the United States and, if so, what that remedy might be. Our focus will be on claims based on international law rather than U.S. domestic law.

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