Window on Climate Change May Be Even Smaller Than Feared

Professor Michael Livermore’s Co-Authored Research Says Solution Must Come During Stability
Glacier breaking up

Photo by ThinkStock

April 11, 2019

The window to act on climate change may be even smaller than we realized, according to a University of Virginia School of Law professor’s new paper in the Harvard Environmental Law Review.

Professor Michael Livermore and co-author Peter Howard of the New York University Institute of Policy Integrity argue in “Sociopolitical Feedbacks and Climate Change” that developing international cooperation to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to the problem must come during a time of economic and political stability. Otherwise, they say, the ability to forge meaningful international agreements may be lost.

“We explore the possibility that humankind is wasting a short window of opportunity to address climate change, one that may soon shut as climate damages incapacitate effective political action,” they write in their paper.

Instability from weather events related to climate change may not spur nations to solve the problem, but rather incapacitate them, if past history with other social and environmental upheaval is any indicator.

Livermore and Howard looked at data on treaty-making during times of conflict in order to construct a data set for comparison. They drew from the University of Oregon’s International Environmental Agreement Database as well as data provided by the Center for Systematic Peace.

Their comparisons found “a significant and meaningful negative relationship between civil conflict and environmental treaty-making.”

From this analysis, Livermore and Howard conclude that there is a real risk of a climate-society feedback loop where “climate damages earlier in time undermine mitigation and adaptation policies, which exacerbates future climate damages.” The authors also examine the potential long-range consequences of this feedback effect for future climate change projections.

Livermore’s research focuses on environmental law, regulation, bureaucratic oversight and the computational analysis of law. He frequently collaborates on interdisciplinary projects with researchers in other academic fields, including economics, computer science and neurology.

Media Contact

Eric Williamson
Associate Director of Communications and Senior Writer

News Highlights