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Law Professor Wirth Reflects on Environmental Negotiations

In early December, the 24th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24) was convened in Poland. Boston College law professor David Wirth was an official academic adviser at the meeting, which was designed to halt the impending effects of climate change.

“Growing up, my father was interested in stamps and coins, and I was interested in butterflies, shells, and fish,” Wirth said. “I was interested in nature, and I grew up with a certain awe and respect for nature.”

Making the world a better place was precisely the goal of the COP24. The conference was looking to elaborate on the Paris Rulebook, which, according to Wirth, was “pretty detailed,” but required further expansion. The Paris Rulebook came out of the Paris Agreement, which was signed in 2015 by 195 countries who agreed to mitigate their greenhouse gas emission and work toward a more environmentally friendly world.

Environmental issues have received greater attention in light of a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that warned of irreversible damage if corrections did not occur before 2020. The U.S. government released a report that came to the same conclusion.

As of now, emissions are still increasing. Wirth warns that they must be reduced by 45 percent by 2030 to avoid the catastrophic effects that accompany dramatic climate change.

COP24 made significant strides toward instituting policies that would curb emissions, but the absence of the United States, and its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, has taken the pressure off China to take significant measures to curb their emissions. Additionally, Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, is a climate change skeptic who has pulled out of hosting COP25.

Wirth called COP24 “somewhat, but not completely satisfying.”

Wirth was invited to the conference because of his impressive resume and his extensive background in the field of international environmental law. He was educated at Princeton University and Harvard University, where he earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in chemistry.

Wirth attended Yale Law School and graduated in 1981. He then went to work as a law clerk to Judge William H. Timbers of U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, before going into the field of international environmental law, which put all of his degrees to use, even though environmental law was still in its infancy stages. He has worked on the diplomatic side of climate change since 1988 and has held positions at the Natural Resources Defense Council and the State Department, among other governmental institutions. When Wirth was at the State Department, he was the only person working on international environmental law.

“I got in on international environmental law when the elevator wasn’t even at the ground floor—it was at the basement,” Wirth said.

Wirth then joined the BC community in 1998 and was made a permanent member of the faculty in 1999. He has taught classes on international environmental law and public international law, as well as climate change and policy.

“The social justice ethos of this school is very attractive to somebody that works in my field,” Wirth said. “I got into this line of work, not to be too disingenuous about it, to make the world a better place. International law can do that.”

Featured Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

January 27, 2019