Contingent Unilateralism: International Aviation in the European Emissions Trading Scheme

By Joanne Scott and Lavanya Rajamani
in The EU's Role in Global Governance: The Legal Dimension
Edited by Bart Van Vooren, Steven Blockmans, and Jan Wouters
Oxford University Press

The European Union (EU) is a self-conscious leader in the ‘fight’ against climate change and an active proponent of an ambitious global climate regime. Nonetheless, to a significant degree its efforts have been in vain. A global agreement to extend or replace the Kyoto Protocol has not been put in place and prospects for an ambitious and comprehensive global climate agreement seem slim. It is against this backdrop of global climate inertia, that the EU has started to change its tack. Fuelled by both environmental and competitiveness concerns, the EU is acting to extend the global reach of its ‘domestic’ climate change law. It is engaging in climate change unilateralism, albeit unilateralism of a particular and interesting kind. The EU’s climate change unilateralism is ‘contingent’ in the sense that the global extension of EU climate change law depends upon there being no adequate international agreement or third country climate action in place. As such the EU should be viewed as a reluctant unilateralist and as deploying contingent unilateralism as a means of incentivising urgently needed climate action elsewhere. In keeping with the theme of this volume as a whole, the EU is shaping the legal structures of global governance in a multi-polar world by testing the boundaries of permissible unilateral action and by experimenting with a form of action-forcing contingent unilateralism that conceives unilateralism as a necessary policy option but one which, ultimately, is second best.