Sabin Center for Climate Change Law

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Founded in 2009, the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law is a prominent think tank and training ground, providing up-to-date information and resources on key topics and promoting advances in the interrelated fields of climate law, environmental regulation, energy regulation, and natural resources law. The core mission of the Sabin Center is to develop and promulgate legal techniques to address climate change and to prepare the next generation of lawyers to be leaders in the field. The Sabin Center is both a global partner and resource for public interest legal institutions engaged in climate change work. In collaboration with scientists at The Earth Institute at Columbia University, the Law School’s Environmental Law Clinic, and New York’s many governmental, nongovernmental, and academic organizations, the center probes for legal solutions to some of the field’s most vexing problems. The Sabin Center focuses on these programmatic areas:

Adaptation Law

Besides mitigating climate change, humanity must also find ways to adapt to it. The Center conducts research on how existing laws and regulations can be used to promote short- and long-term adaptation efforts within government and the private sector.

Clean Air Act

The Clean Air Act is the foundation for federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. The Sabin Center conducts legal research on how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can use this statute to achieve nationwide emission reductions consistent with our nation’s policies and international commitments.

Energy Law

  • CLEAN ENERGY

The Center’s research focuses on how the field of energy law can be updated and expanded to create a sustainable future. Its research places particular emphasis on energy efficiency—often the simplest and nearly always the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change.

  • ELECTRIC UTILITIES

The Center works to ensure that public-utility commissions and the utilities they regulate are working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electricity consumption and preparing electric infrastructure for the effects of climate change.

  • FOSSIL FUELS

To address the consequences of the world’s continuing reliance on fossil fuels as a primary energy source, the Sabin Center examines law and policy related to carbon capture, sequestration, and utilization technologies.

Environmental Assessment

One of the Center's programmatic goals is to advance the use of environmental impact assessment as a tool for climate change mitigation and adaptation planning. The Center monitors how decision makers account for climate change-related considerations in environmental impact assessment documents. It also develops recommendations on how to evaluate a proposal’s greenhouse gas emissions and the climate change impacts on the prospective plans.

Human Rights

The global response to climate change poses risks to human rights as mitigation or adaptation projects threaten to displace or dispossess communities, potentially without adequate participation. Rising sea levels, heat waves, floods, droughts, and other climate change consequences can cause death and injury, displace people from their homes, undermine food and water security, and significantly diminish the well-being of millions of people. The Center’s research explores how international human rights law can be used to enhance mitigation ambition and protect people from these effects.

International and Foreign Law

Climate change is a worldwide problem that demands a global response, and the Center provides legal support for international efforts to confront the causes and effects. The Center also tracks how foreign jurisdictions are addressing climate change through legal reforms and litigation.

Natural Resources

Climate change has demonstrable effects on the biophysical characteristics of habitats, the health and distribution of species, and the timing of critical biological events, such as spring bud burst. Natural resource management decisions can also have implications for greenhouse gas emissions. The Sabin Center conducts work aimed at ensuring that decision-makers consider these effects when managing lands and resources.

Securities and Climate Finance

One critical question underlying the response to climate change is how to mobilize the billions of dollars needed to support mitigation and adaptation projects. Businesses and investors need to prepare for the effects of climate change on their assets and operations and disclose climate-related risks to their shareholders. The Center explores how legal tools can be used to mobilize funds and ensure that companies adequately plan for climate risks.

Threatened Island Nations

Many small island nations may be partially or completely submerged by rising sea levels in the coming decades. They are also vulnerable to other disruptions caused by increasing temperatures and changing precipitation patterns. The Center has worked with threatened island nations since 2009 to develop legal strategies to address these problems.

Justin Gundlach

Sabin Center Staff Attorney

"We know that burning fossil fuel is the main cause of anthropogenic climate change, and that climate change is the source of adverse impacts on communities and even regional and national economies. . . . the companies that profit from extracting fossil fuels have understood this aspect of climate science for some time, yet their response has not been to stem the harmful flow of emissions. Instead, it has been to stem and confuse the flow of information about climate change to the public and political leaders."