Legal Regulation

In a neoclassical utilitarian framework, the regulator is typically a natural or legal person or an entity with the power to regulate within its domain. The difficulty in the context of global issues such as planetary warming and climate change is the absence of a single regulator with the jurisdiction for the global atmosphere or the climate and hence no one with authority to regulate the global commons. Since local climate is not independent or separable from global atmosphere and does not observe legal jurisdictions, regulating local climate change or warming locally without some provision for the larger global dimensions would be an exercise in futility. Further, in the dominant utilitarian approach, the global physical features such as the atmosphere and the climate are a common resource beyond human or state jurisdiction and available for use by all who have access to it.

Within the context of law or legal systems, regulation can refer either to a regulatory regime being a set of laws about some action, or a subset of detailed technical rules that are to be applied in particular physical contexts. In the latter sense, regulations are a set of physical specifications that are to be applied to particular products or processes. Regulatory regimes as part of legal systems in particular jurisdictions differ in the international and the domestic national contexts. Details are particular to the applicable legal system, and may not have comparable features in other legal systems.

The recognition of national sovereignty results in the distinction between the international and the domestic state jurisdictions. In the international context, states may agree to be bound at their own discretion as sovereign entities and not to be compliant with the regulation of a global regulator. Thus, the climate or the atmosphere can only be legally regulated within the jurisdictions of the various sovereign states' legal systems and by agreement with each other. Agreements such as the UNFCCC and the more specific Kyoto Protocol are indispensable in achieving global action. Such agreements to regulate anthropogenic emissions into the atmosphere must be implemented within the jurisdiction of sovereign states by domestic actions and procedures.

In implementing an international agreement in the domestic realm, a state issues laws and enforces them in order to achieve compliance with the international and domestic objectives. In doing so, the state would typically rely on scientific opinion. For instance, a scientific opinion stating that emissions from automobiles include greenhouse gases that should be regulated could lead to applicable regulations. The legal regulation of vehicles may then include a legal rule or a law or legislation that requires the greenhouse gases in tailpipe emissions of an operating automobile to be within certain parameters. This rule could then be accompanied by related regulations that set out in detail the technical specifications as to how the determination of the emissions is to be made and the concentrations of such gases and other acceptable limits of the emissions and may further specify variations by type and model of automobile. The technology in the vehicle itself may then involve systems such as computers or other mechanical systems that adjust or regulate the operation of the equipment to obtain the desired result of compliance with the legal limits.

For the most part, legal regulations are formulated by taking into account the available technical capabilities as well as society's expectations. The Kyoto Protocol, for example, sets legally binding target limits to the emissions into the atmosphere. Some people find the targets inadequate for achieving the stated objective of the UNFCCC and expect further reductions, and others, citing technical and financial reasons, consider these targets unattainable.

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