EU Climate Change Unilateralism

EU Climate Change Unilateralism

By Joanne Scott and Lavanya Rajamani
European Journal of International Law, 15 July 2012

The EU is engaged in an ambitious, controversial, and high-stakes experiment to extend the reach of its climate change law. It is seeking to use its market power to stimulate climate action, and to substitute for climate inaction, elsewhere. This is most apparent in relation to the EU’s decision to include aviation in its emissions trading scheme. While we are sympathetic to the EU’s objectives, and do not take issue with its unilateral means, we argue that the EU is not giving adequate weight to the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDRRC). While the status, meaning, and implications of this principle are contested and unclear, it requires that developed countries should take the lead in addressing the causes and effects of climate change. We argue that the concept of CBDRRC retains relevance in the context of unilateral climate action, and that the EU’s Aviation Directive should be interpreted, applied, and where necessary adjusted in the light of it. We put forward two concrete proposals to achieve this end.