The Legal Implications of Environmental Protection and Climate Change

Climate change poses a grave danger to the health and welfare of all people. Its effects are already being felt, with human-caused greenhouse gas emissions contributing to an increase in frequency, severity and intensity.

Environmental Protection and Climate Change

A safe, healthy, sustainable environment is paramount to the full enjoyment of human rights. These include health, food, water, sanitation rights as well as accessing remedies to redress losses caused by climate change-related effects.

Protecting citizens’ rights to a secure, healthy, and sustainable environment necessitates that governments take meaningful steps to preserve natural resources and limit fossil fuel usage. This is an integral principle of the rule of law and an integral tenet of the Paris Agreement.

It is essential for society and economy that a robust legal framework exists to regulate and enforce environmental standards. There are various ways environmental laws can be implemented and enforced, including by governments, non-governmental organizations, businesses, and individuals.

The Legal Implications of Crafting and Enforcing Environmental Rules
Environmental law and policy in the United States are largely dictated by federal statutes and implementing regulations. Furthermore, most states and some Tribes have delegated authority to implement aspects of federal law. Consequently, local and state environmental requirements may exceed what is statutory mandated by Washington D.C.

The United States also hosts the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), whose mandate it is to safeguard public health and safety from air pollution that threatens them. Through Clean Air Act regulations, EPA reduces emissions of ground-level ozone (“smog”) and other air pollutants that contribute to climate change impacts as well as public health risks.

Despite the proliferation of environmental laws, implementation and enforcement remain a formidable obstacle. A recent UN Environment report revealed that only 26% of global greenhouse gas emission reductions had been achieved, pointing to several causes for this lack of effectiveness: insufficient institutional capacity; corruption; weak civic engagement initiatives; and an absence of effective monitoring systems.

Environmental Justice and Climate Change

There is evidence that climate change disproportionately impacts low-income and vulnerable communities and ethnic groups, who may lack access to resources necessary for adapting. This may be due to historical disparities and inequities.

Racial, social and economic disparity can result in the violation of certain environmental laws and regulations as well as an inability for low-income and vulnerable communities to access legal services necessary to prepare for, respond to and recover from climate change effects. Environmental justice concerns have been used to assert citizens’ rights to a safe, healthy and clean environment under international, regional, and national law; encouraging states to enact and enforce their environmental regulations and policies accordingly.

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