Increasingly effective regulation of the Arctic climate

The objective of the global climate policy to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius is running into trouble. However, it would be possible to significantly slow down climate change in the short term by reducing emissions from short-lived climate forcers.

In the Arctic areas, black carbon and methane are significant short-term warmers of the climate. They are examples of short-lived climate forcers, the enhanced regulation of which could bring new hope for our warming planet.

"Over 20 years of experience has shown that it's really difficult to make effective international agreements to mitigate climate change. From the viewpoint of international law, we are currently moving towards a system in which traditional, legally-binding treaties between states are supplemented by various types of novel, informal regulatory instruments and initiatives," says Professor Kati Kulovesi, an expert in international environmental law.

She runs the Keeping the Arctic White project funded by the Academy of Finland, seeking to find cost-efficient ways of reducing short-lived climate forcers and discovering the best regulatory options to implement emission reductions in the Arctic areas.

The Copenhagen Summit in 2009 was a watershed, after which the deformalisation of legal instruments to mitigate climate change has become increasingly common. A binding treaty was not reached in Copenhagen; instead, many countries came forward, voluntarily announcing their own "bottom up" limitations on greenhouse gas emissions. 

"Some of these announcements have become a reality, some haven't."

One of the key players in the Arctic areas is the intergovernmental Arctic Council, where work is underway to address reductions of short-lived climate forcer emissions less formally than through treaties.

"Furthermore, regulatory initiatives involving states, companies and private actors such as academic institutions and non-governmental organisations have been made."

An example of this kind of initiative is the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), involving several countries in the Arctic area.

"Our project focuses on the various regulatory options there are in addition to traditional treaties when it comes to regulating short-lived climate forcers, how effective they are, and what their effects are."

According to Kulovesi, novel legal regulatory approaches may have benefits over traditional treaties. With a lower participation threshold, these instruments are likely to attract governments as well as other actors to take measures to mitigate climate change.

"In comparison to traditional treaties, they are typically more flexible. Treaties take a long time to negotiate and to enforce and implement at the national level. More informal regulatory approaches do not necessarily involve formal legislative processes, making them more easily adjustable.

When something is not working, it can be fixed more flexibly."

According to Kulovesi, the interest in informal regulatory approaches is increasing. However, they are not likely to replace binding international agreements.

"This is a topic of much debate at the moment. I'm inclined to think that binding international agreements are more effective, or at least we know more about their effects."

Research evidence on the effectiveness of novel regulatory instruments is still scarce.

"We are in the process of making an extensive analysis of international, regional and national regulation, as well as various alternatives to these." Traditionally, legal scholars have approached the issue from the viewpoint of either the international, European or national legal system.

What's interesting about this project is the fact that it brings together research in the fields of law and natural sciences.

"We can combine legal analysis with environmental scientists' and aerosol physicists' analyses of the environmental and climate effects of various alternatives."

Text: Sari Eskelinen Photos: Varpu Heiskanen