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International Climate Change Law

Written by Mariana Newman Last Updated September 27, 2018

Beginning with its development in the 1980s, through the 2015 Paris Agreement and beyond, international climate change law, with the UN climate regime at its core, is complex. This research guide includes resources and tips to begin your research into international climate change law and to stay up to date on developments in this important field. This guide does not cover the domestic law of the United States or other countries. Please refer to the “Beginning Your Foreign Legal Research” guide to get started with foreign law research.

Secondary Sources

Background & Reference Sources

When researching international climate change law, it may be helpful to begin by using a secondary source. The following books, available at the Arthur W. Diamond Law Library, provide a good overview of the field of international climate change law. Keep in mind that this is an ever-evolving area of the law, so consider the publication date of the book when evaluating the currency of the information it contains.

A comprehensive overview of international climate change law.
This will provide a thorough grounding in the key issues of international climate change law.
  • Kyle Danish, “The International Climate Change Regime,” Global Climate Change and U.S. Law, edited by Michael B. Gerrard and Jody Freeman (ABA, 2014) (KF3775 .G58 2014, 3rd Fl. Core Coll.).
The second chapter of this book offers a concise overview of international climate change.
  • Climate Change Law, edited by Daniel A. Farber and Marjan Peeters (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2016)(K3593 .C65 2016, 4th Floor).
Read Part 2: International Law Perspective (pp. 131-309) for discussion of general issues, climate change treaties, and alternative international approaches to climate change.
The “International Background” section of Chapter 1 provides a brief overview.
This dictionary defines terms used in international environmental law agreements. Terms in English and Chinese with English definitions.

Finding Books

Pegasus

Pegasus is the Diamond Law Library catalog. You can search by various fields including subject, title, author, and keyword. You can conduct a combined search of multiple fields by using the advanced search function.

The Library of Congress has created specific “subject headings” that can help you efficiently locate materials on particular topics. This includes headings related to climate change.

Here are some suggested subject searches on Pegasus. Click the link to view the search results for the linked search in the Pegasus catalog. There is another useful way to use subject headings: once you’ve found a book on point, scroll through the record to find and click on its subject(s). This will lead you to other books in the law library collection with the same assigned subject. You can click “Limit Display” at the top of the page and then “Sort results by year” to sort by date of publication, seeing the newest books first.

Suggested subject searches on Pegasus:

CLIO

In addition to the law library collection, you may find books about international climate change, both in print and e-book format, by using CLIO , the Columbia University Online Catalog. A search on CLIO will return results from the law library collection as well as other Columbia University libraries and the holdings of the Columbia, NYPL, and Princeton University off-site storage collection at ReCAP. CLIO has many helpful filters, including a subject filter, on the left side of the results page to help you limit your results.

Suggested subject searches on CLIO:

Outside our Collection/ILL

To find books in libraries outside of Columbia, use WorldCat. Columbia Law School students who wish to borrow books from outside of Columbia through inter-library loan (ILL) must consult the librarians at the reference desk.

If you need more advice on searching for books, contact the librarians at the reference desk. For reference desk hours, see the Diamond Law Library homepage.

Finding Journal Articles

There are two main ways that you can search for articles. The first method is to use a periodical index to find articles based on subject.The second method, which is more familiar to most students, is to use a full text database that has articles within it and search among all the articles by keyword. Keep in mind that there is no single database that indexes or includes every journal that exists, so you may need to search in more than one place in order to conduct a thorough search.

Periodical Indexes

While you can and should always search full-text databases like Westlaw, Lexis, and the HeinOnline Law Journal Library for journal articles, periodical indexes provide some advantages compared to the major full-text databases. First, indexes may cover journals over a more extended period of time. Second, indexes provide more sophisticated search functions, such as searching by subject, country of publication, and language.

Index to Legal Periodicals and Books (ILP)

ILP indexes over 500 legal periodicals that are published in the U.S. Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.

Example subjects:

  • International cooperation on climate change
  • Intergovernmental panel on climate change
  • Climate change laws -- international cooperation

Subjects can also be combined to narrow results. Since ILP is an EBSCO product, you can also simultaneously search the Environment Complete index (which includes international periodicals and monographs) by clicking “Choose Databases” next to the search bar and selecting Environment Complete.

LegalTrac

LegalTrac indexes more than 1200 titles, including major law reviews, specialty publications, and international legal journals. This index is user-friendly because it will provide suggested subjects for the terms you enter. There are a number of subject subdivisions under the main subject “climate change” to explore.

Example subjects:

  • Climate change--International aspects
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2015

Westlaw, Lexis, Bloomberg, Hein Online

N.B.: Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg are limited to current Columbia Law School students, faculty, and staff.

In these databases, you can search through particular journals or through all of the journals that are available. Journals are generally listed under secondary sources in all of these databases, or through the Law Journal Library on Hein Online. This list of environmental law journals may be a useful starting place. These journals may be particularly likely to publish articles relating to international climate change law.

One useful tip for full-text searching in Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg is to use a term frequency operator or the “at least” command. Term frequency and the “at least” operator allow you to ensure that the search term or phrase appears in the results a minimum of x times. By using this, you can ensure that your results are actually about what you are searching for rather than just using the search term or phrase only once or twice.

CLIO

Many articles published in journals to which the libraries subscribe are searchable full-text through CLIO, the Columbia University Online Catalog. While this is not a particularly precise method of finding relevant articles, it can help you get an idea of what is out there, or find more articles you may have missed. Enter your keywords in the main search bar, click “View and filter all… results” on the Articles portion of the results page, and use the filtering options on the left hand side of the page as necessary.

CLIO is also a quick way to obtain full-text access to articles when you already know the title(s) you need.

Further Guidance

For more detailed assistance searching for books and articles, please consult our research guide Finding Books and Articles on International and Foreign Law.

Primary Sources

International Agreements

To learn how to approach treaty research generally, see Diamond Law Library's Guide to Treaty Research.

Linked below are the major international agreements on climate change. The full text of the treaty is linked as well as the webpage from the UN Treaties website that includes details on the participants and key dates.

Adopted May 9, 1992; entered into force Mar. 21, 1994
UN Treaties Details Page
Bluebook citation: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, May 9, 1992, S. Treaty Doc No. 102-38, 1771 U.N.T.S. 107.
Adopted Dec. 11, 1997; entered into force Feb. 16, 2005. N.B.: The U.S. was not a party.
UN Treaties Details Page
Bluebook citation: Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Dec. 10, 1997, 2303 U.N.T.S. 162.
Adopted Dec. 12, 2015; entered into force Nov. 4, 2016
UN Treaties Details Page
Bluebook citation: Paris Agreement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Dec. 12, 2015, T.I.A.S. No. 16-1104.

IGOs

The websites of intergovernmental organizations can provide much valuable information.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat (UN Climate Change)

This website provides the most complete and accessible information on the work of UN Climate Change, which facilitated the intergovernmental climate change negotiations and supports the various bodies that implement the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement. It includes comprehensive information about

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The IPCC assesses and provides scientific and technical information related to climate change and its impacts. Its website includes the reports produced at its conferences and technical papers, going back to the mid- 1990s.

UN Environment Programme- Climate Change

The UNEP helps countries implement environmentally sound policies. The climate change section of its website includes reports and news stories.

Useful Databases

ECOLEX

The ECOLEX database, a project of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN Environment Programme, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature includes information on treaties, international policy documents, national legislation, judicial decisions, and environmental law literature. There is both indexing and full text for many documents.

Current Awareness Tools

ClimateWire

ClimateWire, accessible through CLIO, is a daily publication focusing on climate policy. Articles on international topics can be found under the “International” heading.

International Environment Reporter

Bloomberg Law offers twice monthly coverage of international environmental news, laws, regulations, and policies from major nations and international organizations through the International Environment Reporter. You can scan headlines and read articles on Bloomberg Law or receive email updates.

Additional Resources

Sabin Center for Climate Change Law

Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law is a wonderful resource for all aspects of climate change law. In the international law field, the Center’s website includes the 2017 report it wrote for the UN Environmental Programme: “The Status of Climate Change Litigation: A Global Review.”

Other Research Guides

Here are five online research guides about international climate change or international environmental law generally that may be useful: