Law Professor’s New Book Explores Climate Change Litigation

Lexington, VA • Friday, January 15, 2010


In the video above, Professor Hari Osofsky, associate professor of law at Washington and Lee University School of Law, discusses her new co-edited book, Adjudicating Climate Change: State, National, and International Approaches. The book explores the regulatory significance of past and ongoing court actions related to climate change policy.

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The Courts have emerged as a crucial battleground in efforts to regulate climate change. A new book edited by Washington and Lee School of Law professor Hari Osofsky explores some of these cases argued in state and national courts, as well as international tribunals, in order to explain their regulatory significance and examine this emerging area of litigation.

The book, Adjudicating Climate Change: State, National, and International Approaches, was co-edited by William C.G. Burns and is available now from Cambridge University Press.

Over the past several years, tribunals at every level of government around the world have seen claims regarding greenhouse gas emissions and impacts. These cases rely on diverse legal theories, but all focus on government regulation of climate change or the actions of major corporate emitters.

Delving into these cases, the book demonstrates the role that these cases play in broader debates over climate policy and argues that they serve as an important force in pressuring governments and emitters to address this problem. But Osofsky emphasizes that these cases are not only important because they lead to greater or lesser regulation or push major emitters to reduce their emissions.

"These cases become part of a dialog about how we should regulate this problem," says Osofsky. "What level of government is appropriate for regulating the problem? How should each level of government participate in the regulatory scheme?"

Osofsky herself became interested in climate change litigation while working in the area of international environmental rights and assisting the Center for International Environmental Law and Earthjustice with a petition to the Inter-American Commission claiming that U.S. climate change policy violated the Inuit's human rights.

"At the time, almost all of the discussion surrounding climate change focused on the outcome of the Kyoto Protocol and post-Kyoto treaty negotiations," says Osofsky. "But I realized that the Inuit case was just one of many actions already ongoing in national and state courts and international tribunals, and that these cases would have an impact on climate change regulation as these negotiations took place."

Osofsky's work continues to focus on, as she says, the "multi-scalar problem" climate policy creates for government.

"Our legal system is tied to specific levels of government and specific kinds of institutions," notes Osofsky. "But climate change regulation cuts across every level of governance we have, from the most individual to the most international."

In addition to her new book, Osofsky has a casebook on climate change law and policy forthcoming from Aspen Publishers.  Her recent articles on climate change litigation have been awarded the Daniel B. Luten Award for the best paper by a professional geographer by the Energy and Environment Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers and have twice been runner-up for inclusion in Land Use and Environment Law Review's annual compilation of the top land use and environmental law articles. 

This year Osofsky will serve as co-chair of the American Society of International Law's 2010 Annual Meeting.   She also is a member of the Climate Legacy Initiative's Consultants Working Group and the International Law Association's Committee on the Legal Principles of Climate Change, and teaches classes in which students assist the Southern Environmental Law Center with its work on climate change.

Prof. Osofsky received her B.A. and J.D. from Yale University. After clerking for Judge Dorothy Nelson of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, she worked as a Fellow at the Center for the Law in the Public Interest, with a focus on environmental justice advocacy.

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