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Law faculty, students to present research at UN climate change meeting

May 24, 2013

A group of professors and students from the College of Law will present their research on international legal regimes at a global climate change negotiation organized under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on June 3-14, in Bonn, Germany.

The law students – Daniel Crane, a May 2013 graduate, 3Ls Evan Singleton and Michael O’Boyle, and Ashley Votruba, a student in the JD/PhD social psychology program – will address participants on June 5. They will be accompanied by Daniel Bodansky, the ASU Lincoln Professor of Law, Ethics and Sustainability, and Daniel Rothenberg, a professor of practice in the ASU School of Politics and Global Studies and the Lincoln Fellow for Ethics and International Human Rights Law.

The students also will be blogging about the experience at

The students’ work resulted from an independent research project this past spring, taught and supervised by Bodansky and Rothenberg, housed in the College of Law’s Center for Law and Global Affairs, and funded by the ASU Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics. They were chosen from 20 applicants for “The Future of Climate Change Negotiations Project,” during which they learned about the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol and other elements of the larger effort to use international law and regulations to address global climate change.

“The student projects review key elements of four international legal regimes – the historical development of the European human rights system toward ever greater rigor; the value and impact of bottom-up international protections of wetlands and efforts to limit desertification; modes of harmonization associated with international trade law; and the potential risks and benefits of a more fragmented regulatory system as understood through international intellectual property law,” Rothenberg said.

Bodansky, an international authority on global climate change, said the students have done a tremendous job preparing for the world stage they will take in two weeks. It is rare, in his experience, that students should be so involved.

“In 22 years of these meetings, I’ve never been to a side event where students are presenting their work,” he said. “I haven’t seen anything exactly like what we’re doing,” Bodaynsky said.

The group approached their task from the assumption that, as a new round of negotiations begins with a wrap-up date of 2015, parties might be able to learn something from other international treaty systems. In consultation with the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, they chose the European human rights system, the treaty systems that protect wetlands and prevent desertification, agreements to harmonize international trade law and international intellectual property law.

For the students, the project was a combination of learning the background of climate change law and policy, brainstorming international treaty systems that might be appropriate, developing subject topics, performing research, writing white papers and, soon, presenting their findings.

For Singleton, a future natural resource attorney, and Votruba, who plans to teach law, the experience has been like none other in law school.

“I’ve always been interested in climate change,” said Singleton, who, as an undergraduate at Colorado State University, took courses in environmental law. “It may be the greatest issue my generation will face and the political involvement in it, the international scope of it and the implications it has on economics, energy, food and water supplies and other dynamics really caught my attention.”

The project has been a unique challenge because the work took him much deeper into his topic - international intellectual property law - than any subject matter he has explored while in law school. Specifically, he looked at how the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), an umbrella organization of the U.N., has beneath it 24 smaller treaties or agreements that each focus on a particular aspect of intellectual property protection or a particular industry. The treaties have changed the landscape of international intellectual property law, Singleton said, because of their specialization and, therefore, responsiveness to those entities.

“This model lets you move forward with a less-than-global approach, if you don’t have everyone on board,” he said of its potential use in climate change negotiations. “You start small, develop slowly and let countries test out their treaty, with the hope that membership and participation increase in the future.”

Votruba studied the value and impact of bottom-up approaches to protecting wetlands internationally and preventing the rapid depletion of plant life and loss of top soil in desert and arid regions, called desertification. 

“If we let states and parties set their own commitment levels, what sort of positive benefits could the international regime have in the areas of providing funding and information, and promoting change in states’ behavior, and how much more successful can we be?” she said.

“My experiences last semester felt much more like (being) an academic and less like (being) a student, which has been invaluable to me, given my career path,” Votruba said.

Bodansky said the project has had a dual benefit: the students’ papers are keenly focused and will be relevant to the climate change negotiators, providing information that they may not have considered. And for the students, there’s no substitute for being able to present their work, however nerve-wracking at this time, to an international audience, and witnessing firsthand how negotiations of such worldwide importance unfold.