Climate change

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The planetary boundary on climate change probably is the boundary that has received most legal recognition of all planetary boundaries. It is hard to imagine international climate change law not taking an Earth System perspective as the climate system is a global system that is affected by the combined impact of human greenhouse gas emissions across the globe. Since 1992, with the signing of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the international community has been trying to establish a global legal mechanism with the aim to keep climate change within the limits of the planet, although the adoption of a specific quantified boundary occurred only in 2009. This experience of almost thirty years makes it possible to assess whether this planetary boundary has been explicitly recognized in international and domestic law, and, if so, how exactly. We can also assess what the impact of these attempts has been.
This chapter carries out this assessment through following steps. After the introduction, section 2 has a closer look at the climate change boundary: what does it entail, and how are we doing in observing this boundary? This section largely relies on scientific literature on planetary boundaries and on climate science literature, such as reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Section 3 then focusses on international law: how has the planetary boundary been recognized in international climate change law, from the UNFCCC up to the Paris Agreement, and how has the international community attempted to remain within this boundary? This question will be answered through reviewing relevant legal texts. The same question, but then with a focus on the domestic level, is addressed in section 4. As the aim of this section primarily is to show how a ‘planetary boundary’-approach can be adopted at the domestic level, I did not do wide survey among a range of countries. The relatively small size of this chapter also limited the number of laws and cases to be assessed. Therefore, I only reviewed some very advanced domestic climate change laws, namely that of the United Kingdom, France and Germany and the most prolific climate change litigation case to date, that of Urgenda versus the Netherlands.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearch handbook on law, governance and planetary boundaries
EditorsDuncan French, Louis J. Kotzé
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing Ltd.
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-78990-274-7
ISBN (Print)978-1-78990-273-0
Publication statusPublished - May 2021

Publication series

NameResearch Handbooks in Environmental Law
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing


  • climate law
  • Anthropocene
  • planetary boundaries
  • Environmental law
  • International Law


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