International Criminal Law and Climate Change

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Climate change represents the most complex and important challenge to the international community today. Scholars and advocates from diverse disciplines have attempted to contribute to solutions to this problem with some success. International criminal law scholars have been, with a few exceptions, largely absent from these debates. I argue that attention to the purposes of international criminal law can help to address this deficit. In this Article, I argue that international criminal law can play a meaningful role in addressing climate-harming behavior if policymakers intentionally harness the expressive power of the criminal law to stigmatize the many small behaviors that, taken together, contribute to climate change. My argument is in contrast to previous attempts to articulate a role for international criminal law because it is intentionally modest and therefore more politically plausible. I do not attempt to hold every polluter criminal responsible or to create a grand new international institution. Instead, I draw on insights from behavioral psychology and economics to show that the criminal law can, under the appropriate conditions, affect the attitudes of ordinary citizens and thereby affect their behavior. By following this approach, international criminal law can finally begin to help address climate change.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-122
JournalBoston University International Law Joural
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2019


  • international criminal law
  • international law
  • climate change


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