International Law and Renewable Energy: Facilitating Sustainable Energy for All?

By Bruce, Stuart | Melbourne Journal of International Law, June 2013 | Go to article overview

International Law and Renewable Energy: Facilitating Sustainable Energy for All?


Bruce, Stuart, Melbourne Journal of International Law


Eradicating energy poverty and averting dangerous climate change will require a global 'energy revolution' in favour of low-carbon energy sources. To assist in this transition, the United Nations has established the Sustainable Energy for All ('SE4ALL') initiative. This article critiques the role, character and capacity of international law--'soft' law instruments, binding obligations and international legal actors--to facilitate the initiative's goal of doubling the renewable energy share in the global energy mix by 2030. It argues that permanent sovereignty over natural resources and energy security policy are false barriers to action. In recent history international renewable energy policy has proliferated, becoming an important normative force to guide energy law, policy and project development. Conspicuously absent from the international plane are meaningful binding instruments and obligations, such as generation targets in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ('UNFCCC'), the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Energy Charter Treaty ('ECT'). The impact of the new International Renewable Energy Agency, which is mandated to facilitate renewable energy knowledge and technology transfer, remains to be seen. Ultimately, the progress of SE4ALL will depend on unprecedented international cooperation and coordination. This article proposes four legal options to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and advance meaningful implementation of SE4ALL: (1) an international energy convention; (2) an energy protocol to the UNFCCC; (3) reform of and a new protocol to the ECT; and (4) an international declaration on renewable energy principles. It is contended that whatever legal format might be politically feasible, the age of sustainable energy has arrived. The dynamism and influence of international energy law is crucial to a global energy transition.

CONTENTS

I Introduction

II  Challenges for International Energy Law
    A Permanent Sovereignty: A Sustainable Challenge to Energy
      Cooperation?
    B Energy Security: Supplying Future Demand
III Current International Law and Renewable Energy
    A Global Energy Policy Development: Soft Law Normativity
      1 General Principles: Indirectly Influential
      2 Sustainable Development: Reclaiming the Environment
      3 Energy for Sustainable Development: Catalysing Change
      4 Sustainable Energy for All: The Modern Imperative
    B Climate Change Regime: Hard Law, Missed Opportunity
      1 Framework Convention on Climate Change: Lacking Energy
      2 Kyoto Protocol and Beyond: Hot Air on Energy Generation
    C Regional Renewable Energy Law: Charter Exhortations
    D Actors and Institutions: Facilitating Global Cooperation
      1 Advocates, Agencies, Banks and Think Tanks: Shaping
        Energy Policy
      2 IRENA: Power to Influence
IV  The Future of International Law and Renewable Energy
    A International Energy Convention: Targeting Generation
    B Energy Protocol to the UNFCCC: Durban Platform Possibility?
    C Protocol to the ECT: Globalising Energy
    D Declaration on Renewable Energy Principles: Soft at First
V   Conclusion

'Energy is the golden thread that connects economic growth, increased social equity, and an environment that allows the world to thrive'.

--Ban Ki-moon (1)

'There are few signs that the urgently needed change in direction in global energy trends is underway'.

--International Energy Agency (2)

I INTRODUCTION

Energy use is indispensable to human life. Yet 'warming of the climate system is unequivocal'. (3) Most of the increase in global average temperatures over the past 50 years is 'very likely' due to increases in anthropogenic greenhouse gas ('GHG') concentrations. (4) The primary driver is fossil fuel consumption, which accounts for 80 per cent of global energy consumption. (5) Conservative scientific consensus indicates that in order to maintain a 50 per cent chance of averting catastrophic climate change, the global temperature must not increase by more than 2[degrees]C by 2050. …

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