Legal Disputes Related to Climate Change Will Continue for a Century

By District of Columbia Bar

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Professor Richard T. Pierce, Jr. -- Lyle T. Alverson Professor of Law -- recently presented an essay at the Harold Leventhal Lecture to the D.C. Bar. He is confident that his current students "will be working on legal issues related to climate change when they retire fifty years from now." Below you will find an exerpt of his essay: 

The average global temperature is already certain to increase by 2 degrees Fahrenheit.[2] It will increase by far more, with other major attendant changes in climate, unless we reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases (ghgs) by at least 50% by 2050.[3] The effects of failure to accomplish that daunting task will be catastrophic. They include the deaths of millions and the displacement of scores of millions.[4] 


Some of the legal disputes of the future will look a lot like recent disputes with respect to the arguable need for actions by legislatures, regulators, and courts concerning proposed renewable fuel projects, nuclear powerplants, transmission lines, fracking operations, efficiency standards, etc. We are already beginning to see new types of disputes, however. Thus, for instance, we are beginning to see disputes about whether zoning boards should authorize construction of long-lived structures on tracts of land that are likely to be completely submerged in a few decades. 

[2] EPA website, Climate Change Basics (2012)
[3] Id.
[4] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007 [hereinafter IPCC 2007].