Global Climate Change and the Fragmentation of International Law


  • A previous draft of this article was presented at the Post ILC Debate on Fragmentation of International Law, Helsinki, Finland, 23–24 February 2007. Parts of the article are further based on a paper presented at the Biennial Conference of the European Society of International Law, Paris, France, on 18 May 2006, under the title “Vacillating between Unity and Fragmentation: International Law and Climate Change.” Part of the research for this article was further conducted under the project Adaptation and Mitigation Strategies: Supporting European Climate Policy (ADAM), financed by DG Research of the European Commission under the Sixth Framework Programme 2002–2006, Priority, Global Change and Ecosystems. The authors would like to thank Constanze Haug, Kyla Tienhaara, and two anonymous reviewers for their useful comments on a previous draft of this article. The usual caveat applies.

Address correspondence to Harro van Asselt, Institute for Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1087, 1081 HV, Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Telephone: 0031-20-5989575; E-mail:


Born into the wider body of international law, the climate regime needs to be understood in light of preexisting regimes. By drawing on the current debate about fragmentation in international law, this article highlights challenges for international lawyers and policymakers in navigating the relationship between the climate regime and the biodiversity regime, and the relationship between the climate regime and the multilateral trading system. This article concludes that a narrow focus on conflicts misrepresents the multifaceted nature of climate change and precludes an adequate jurisprudential understanding of the relationship between the climate regime and other regimes. An improved understanding, particularly with respect to interactions with the biodiversity regime, requires a broadening of the debate that takes account of the institutional aspects of these relationships that may allow enhanced political cooperation and coordination. Further, international law, and in particular the emerging concept of systemic integration, has the potential to make a positive contribution to the climate-trade interplay.