International Law and Renewable Energy: Facilitating Sustainable Energy for All?

36 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2013 Last revised: 29 Apr 2019

See all articles by Stuart Bruce

Stuart Bruce

University of Cambridge - Lauterpacht Centre for International Law; University College London - Faculty of Law

Date Written: March 1, 2013


Eradicating energy poverty and averting dangerous climate change will require a global ‘energy revolution’ in favour of low-carbon energy sources. To assist in this transition, the United Nations has established the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative. This article critiques the role, character and capacity of international law — ‘soft’ law instruments, binding obligations and international legal actors — to facilitate the initiative’s goal of doubling the renewable energy share in the global energy mix by 2030. It argues that permanent sovereignty over natural resources and energy security policy are false barriers to action. In recent history international renewable energy policy has proliferated, becoming an important normative force to guide energy law, policy and project development. Conspicuously absent from the international plane are meaningful binding instruments and obligations, such as generation targets in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC and the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT). The impact of the new International Renewable Energy Agency, which is mandated to facilitate renewable energy knowledge and technology transfer, remains to be seen. Ultimately, the progress of SE4ALL will depend on unprecedented international cooperation and coordination. This article proposes four legal options to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and advance meaningful implementation of SE4ALL: (1) an international energy convention; (2) an energy protocol to the UNFCCC; (3) reform of and a new protocol to the ECT; and (4) an international declaration on renewable energy principles. It is contended that whatever legal format might be politically feasible, the age of sustainable energy has arrived. The dynamism and influence of international energy law is crucial to a global energy transition.

Keywords: international law, international policy, renewable energy, sustainable energy, SE4ALL, energy policy, energy security, climate change, UNFCCC, Energy Charter Treaty, United Nations, international actors

Suggested Citation

Bruce, Stuart, International Law and Renewable Energy: Facilitating Sustainable Energy for All? (March 1, 2013). Melbourne Journal of International Law, Vol. 14, No. 1, June 2013. Available at SSRN:

Stuart Bruce (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge - Lauterpacht Centre for International Law ( email )

Lauterpacht Centre for International Law
5 Cranmer Road
Cambridge, CB3 9BL
United Kingdom

University College London - Faculty of Law ( email )

Gower St
London WC1E OEG, WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom

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