The arrival of Todd Stern — the United States Special Envoy for Climate Change from 2009 to 2016 — is bringing together the fields of climate change and international law at Yale Law School.
Alongside Law School professors Harold Koh and Douglas Kysar, Stern, a visiting lecturer, is co-teaching a class this fall on climate change entitled “The Past, Present and Future of Climate Change: Law and Policy.” The course is open to over 30 students from the Law School, the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale College, Stern said, and also includes a number of guest lectures, including one from Danish diplomat Bo Lidegaard.
“I think the class is going well, and maybe we’ll do it again next year,” Stern said. “I’ll have to talk to my colleagues, but I think climate change as an issue is going to be a very important component both domestically and internationally.”
Stern was invited to teach at Yale by Koh and Kysar in March and comes to his new teaching role after finishing his seven-year term at the Department of State.
Koh said Stern’s previous achievements and his career in diplomacy — especially on issues of global warming and the environment — demonstrate that Stern has “lived this experience.” Koh added that Stern’s role in the final stage of the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement, a landmark international climate change agreement, will allow him to bring current climate issues to bear on his course.
“The class thus far has been extraordinary — to be able to hear firsthand from the key architect of one of the greatest diplomatic achievements in the history of international environmental law is, obviously, a remarkable opportunity,” Kysar said. All three professors co-teaching the course alternate delivering lectures.
Eugene Rusyn LAW ’17 said that in class, Stern has given him unique insight into real-life diplomacy and deal making. He praised all three professors for their ability to link international law and climate change theories with practice, all while discussing the complicated legal and historical backgrounds of climate change policies.
But the course may have a larger impact on climate change studies at the University than the walls of the classroom. Students in the course said this issue is growing in significance to many Yale students, and hoped similar classes would follow in the coming years.
“I think Professor Stern’s presence might help students feel like environmental issues are gaining traction in the Law School, which could help expand sustainability efforts in the months and years to come,” Rusyn said.
Paul Strauch LAW ’18 said that he was most interested in learning about how certain laws and policy interact in the development of international legal regimes, and also how law can be limited in certain contexts.
Paul Rink LAW ’18 noted that during Stern’s class he learned about both the binding and nonbinding aspects of the Paris Agreement, including the reasons why provisions need not be binding in order to be both meaningful and effective.
Next week, Stern will discuss in greater detail the building of the Paris Agreement as well as the United States’ relationship with China.