The relationship between the UNFCCC and other rules of public international law

Briefing paper

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Date produced: 31/01/2013

In September 2011, the President of Palau made a statement to the UN General Assembly in which he asked the General Assembly to “seek, on an urgent basis… an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the responsibilities of States under international law to ensure that activities carried out under their jurisdiction or control that emit greenhouse gases do not damage other States”. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the principal international legal instrument adopted by States to address climate change. In addition to its substantive provisions, it also includes procedures for the settlement of disputes between States parties. Given its scope and procedures, therefore, the UNFCCC could be viewed as establishing a ‘special regime’ which derogates from general international law and prevents parties to the Convention from seeking legal redress for the adverse effects of global warming outside of the Convention process. This paper analyses whether such contentions are warranted.