Analyzing Soft Law and Hard Law in Climate Change
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There is a great deal of variety in the international environmental agreements that have mushroomed in past decades. These legal arrangements can be placed on a continuum from hard law – precise and legally binding treaties that oblige a behavioural change with delegated enforcement bodies – to the softest of soft law, with its vague, aspirational goals and no delegation or institutional follow-up. The legalization continuum is a more insightful starting point for analyzing international agreements than ‘bottom-up’ vs. ‘top-down’ or ‘pledge-and-review’ vs. ‘targets-and-timetables’ that are often suggested by reports and policy papers. When applying the legalization lenses to the UN climate regime, two big trends emerge. There is a notable turn toward soft law in developed country commitments in climate mitigation. In the meantime, the UN regime is becoming harder by providing greater transparency of climate actions of all major economies.