Carolina Arlota


Climate change is complex during the best of times. It is commonly conceptualized as the quintessential global collective action problem: it affects those who do not contribute to it while the benefits of climate change mitigation measures are not restricted to those who pursue such measures. This conceptualization illustrates the high transaction costs involved in domestic policies as well as in international agreements addressing climate change, and it is of academic and practical interest. As such, this Article discusses the current challenges that climate change policies face, focusing on the linkages between the climate change policies of the Trump administration and the COVID-19 pandemic and on the effects of those linkages, both in the United States and globally. Specifically, this Article addresses the Trump administration’s attacks on climate science and its deregulatory climate agenda, as well as the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. In addition, it discusses principles of international law and the challenges related to state liability for environmental harms in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. This Article also assesses how the United States’ climate policies are likely to aggravate inequalities both domestically, as well as globally, in the aftermath of the pandemic.

This Article offers several original contributions. First, it provides a unique assessment of how the deregulatory climate policies implemented nationally and internationally by the Trump administration have magnified the COVID-19 crisis. Second, the law and economics methodology used in this Article validates the claim that improving environmental quality is connected to optimizing early regulatory action. Third, this Article discusses the challenges of state liability for climate harms in the aftermath of the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and concurrent COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, this Article offers relevant insights for the literature on climate change that are likely to be applicable to critical future situations, whether they are health-related, a global economic crisis, or climate-related emergencies.

Ultimately, this Article concludes that, in the aggregate, all such climate change policies have contributed to increased pollution, including elevated greenhouse gas emissions that have aggravated pre-pandemic inequalities embedded within the United States and among countries. Consequently, the domestic and international policy choices of the Trump administration are worsening the impact of the pandemic, particularly for those in more vulnerable positions, as well as indelibly poisoning the global commons.

Keywords: climate change, climate policy, international environmental law, international law, international energy law, COVID-19, pandemic, deregulation, Trump administration, Paris Agreement, international liability, climate harm, inequality.

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