Monday, November 3, 2014

Responding to the IPCC Fifth Assessment during the Month of November (from the Environmental Law Collaborative)

As a special post-Halloween treat for the month of November, a series of guest blogs will be appearing here examining the latest IPCC report. The essays are the latest production of the Environmental Law Collaborative, a group of environmental law scholars whose goal is to meet and work collaboratively to discuss and offer solutions for environmental law’s major issues of the day. ELC facilitates dialog among thought leaders on environmental policy priorities, practical implementation strategies, assessment mechanisms, and cooperative analysis of science, economics, and ethics. It has become increasingly apparent that, although environmental policy benefits from a robust drive for the dissemination of information, environmental policy is also influenced by strategic misinformation and effective use of persuasive communication. To advance society and secure welfare at local and global scales, our professional activities must contribute to resolution of the divisive issues that confront our environment.

The Environmental Law Collaborative’s first collection of essays appeared in on this blog in the December 2012 and addressed sustainability in the age of climate change (with essays from Michael Burger, Elizabeth Burleson, Rebecca Bratspies, Robin Kundis Craig, Alexandra Harrington, Keith H. Hirokawa, Sarah Karkoff, Katrina Kuh, Stephen Miller, Jessica Owley, Patrick Parenteau, Melissa Powers, Shannon Roesler, & Jonathan Rosenbloom – republished in Rethinking Sustainability to Meet the Climate Change Challenge, 43 Envtl L. Rep. News & Analysis 10342 (2013). The group expanded these essays into a book length project as well. Rethinking Sustainability To Meet The Climate Change Challenge (Jessica Owley & Keith Hirokawa eds. forthcoming 2015)—ELI Press.

In July 2014, the group (now comprised of Sarah J. Adams-Schoen, Cinnamon Carlane, Robin Kundis Craig, John C. Dernbach, Keith H. Hirokawa, Alexandra B. Klass, Katrina Fischer Kuh, Stephen R. Miller, Jessica Owley, Shannon Roesler, Jonathan Rosenbloom, Inara Scott, and David Takacs) met in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to turn a critical eye to the recent reports of the three working groups of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). On September 27, 2013, the IPCC’s Working Group I released its report, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis, which concluded, with 95% confidence, that climate change is occurring and humans are causing it. Working Groups II and III followed with their reports in 2014—respectively, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability and Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Collectively, these three reports constitute the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (“AR5”).

At the 2014 meeting of the Collaborative, participants used the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Reports as texts through which to discuss how issues of climate change are presented and, moreover, what is missing from that presentation. In that review, the Collaborative found that not everything was fully accounted for, even in the three massive working group reports. With a particular concentration on the three working group Summaries for Policymakers, the Collaborative decided to use the Fifth Assessment Report as a springboard for discussing the relationship between environmental science, environmental and natural resources law and policy, and the social issues that arise where those two meet.

The IPCC’s three working group Summaries for Policymakers documents primarily focused on empirical claims: Each Working Group assembled facts about climate change and presented a compendium of the information gathered. To have any meaning for law and policy, however, the facts of the Summaries for Policymakers must be refracted through a series of value claims (e.g., “biodiversity is good” or “considering the needs of future generations is more important than over-consuming Earth’s resources today”) to generate normative claims. The IPCC Summaries for Policymakers shied away from such normative claims.

Normative claims, however, are the provenance of lawyers and law professors: How should we live our lives? How should laws (in general, or in your specific area) be rewritten to reflect the realities of climate change? What new laws should be written? How should laws be enforced or interpreted, given changing ecological circumstances? How should a changing climate prompt changes in existing systems of environmental resource governance? Who should have a say in implementing the law that governs your resource of interest?

After the discussion, we all had many ideas about how the empirical claims generated by the IPCC should be translated into normative claims. We explored these ideas by choosing an excerpt from one of the Summaries for Policymakers—each excerpt an empirical claim—and writing a normative response to that claim. The following essays memorialize the proceedings of this collaboration and, together, offer a collection of normative lenses that can be held up to the IPCC Fifth Assessment’s empirical claims. We view these essays as jumping off points for deeper discussions and action by the environmental law community and, potentially, even as a way to conceptualize the framework for IPCC’s Sixth Assessment.

These essyas are appearing at a propitious time because two days ago, the IPCC released its synthesis report. While our group did not have the benefit of the synthesis report when writing our essays, you'll quickly see that they address pressing concerns that arise with the report and with measures to mitigate andadapte to climate change. We’ll be starting tomorrow with the individual essays, with a Cinnamon Carlarne kicking things off.

- Robin Kundis Craig, Stephen Miller, and Jessie Owley

Biodiversity, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Energy, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Sustainability, Water Quality, Water Resources, Weblogs | Permalink

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