Conceiving the Rationale for International Climate Law

130(3) Climatic Change 371-382

NUS Law Working Paper No. 2014/003

13 Pages Posted: 6 May 2014 Last revised: 28 Jul 2015

See all articles by Benoit Mayer

Benoit Mayer

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) - Faculty of Law

Date Written: January 1, 2015


A rationale is a reasoned narrative used to justify a norm or set of norms; in turn, it determines the expectations that one holds from the law and provides a framework in which complementary norms are bargained. This article proposes a reflection on the elusive rationale for international climate law. Its first, analytical claim is that there is currently no consensus on such a rationale – an absence likely to impede climate negotiations. References to “equity,” “common but differentiated responsibilities” and “respective capabilities” in existing climate law provide insufficient guidance to ongoing negotiations, reflecting an agreement to disagree rather than a common vision. The construction of a rationale is prevented by protracted disputes regarding the ethical grounds relevant to climate law and by the ambivalence of national interests, which are essentially social constructs. A second, normative claim of this article is that the rationale for climate law should be construed as a hybrid narrative reconciling moral aspirations with pragmatic constraints. Thus, it is submitted that the concept of complex interdependence could be applied to climate change to emphasize existing national interests in fostering global sustainable development. Although important debates remain, complex interdependence provides essential guidance by calling states to take moral arguments into account, in their own interest – when such arguments are widely accepted by civil societies – in order to avoid human destitution and resentment and to preclude the possibility of disastrous consequences on international peace and security.

Keywords: climate law, rationale, ethics, international relations, complex interdependence, state interests

Suggested Citation

Mayer, Benoit, Conceiving the Rationale for International Climate Law (January 1, 2015). 130(3) Climatic Change 371-382; NUS Law Working Paper No. 2014/003. Available at SSRN: or

Benoit Mayer (Contact Author)

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) - Faculty of Law ( email )

6/F, Lee Shau Kee Building
Shatin, New Territories
Hong Kong

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