4 June 2018

Lawyer Natalie Dobson's PhD Defence

The downside of European climate measures

In the past years, the European Union profiles itself with progressive climate measures. These measures are good for the environment, but have a downside as well. According to lawyer Natalie Dobson, climate policy affects the sovereignty of non-EU countries. Besides that, these measures also sometimes serve as hidden protectionism. “The EU should bear other states in mind more,” says Dobson, who will obtain her PhD on 5 June.

These past years, the EU strongly dedicates itself to the reduction of its member states' ecological footprint. On the one hand, this is because the agreements from the Paris Accord require this. On the other hand, this is also because the EU increasingly derives its rationale and identity from this. Dobson opines this in her doctoral thesis Exterritorialiteit het Internationaal in Recht: Het Beleid van de EU inzake Klimaatverandering.


While determining the exact protection level, sometimes the question is raised whether or not the EU is favouring its own producers.
Utrecht University School of Law

“But this green European policy results in interesting questions in international law,” Dobson says. “For instance, the EU sets demands for the production process of import goods from China. With this, it factually determines how Chinese producers should produce these goods. The regulation of such ‘extraterritorial’ production processes is controversial, because it affects the sovereignty of that country. Chinese manufacturers did not vote on the European policy, but these rules are still imposed on them. That chafes in a legal way.”


The same applies to rules regarding shipping and aviation, Dobson concludes. The EU sets environmental requirements for ships and planes. Whenever a non-European airline company takes off from or touches down at a European member state, it has to pay a climate tax for the entire flight. “That has a strong extraterritorial element as well,” Dobson says. “And that is often seen as unjust. In my doctoral thesis, I argue that this isn't the case by definition, but I do plead in favour of a tool that ensures that future climate measures of the EU have minimal infractions on the sovereignty of other states – because that is definitely not the case now.”

Favouring European producers

In her doctoral thesis, Dobson also points out the double motives the EU sometimes has in the implementation of climate measures. The EU strives, first of all, for a level playing field, Dobson says. Economically speaking, it isn't competitive if only European countries are required to adhere to climate measures, so the rules apply to producers from all over the world. “However, during the determination of the exact protection level, the question of whether or not the EU is favouring its own producers is sometimes raised. An example: back when the EU set a guideline for biofuel, it had set the sustainability requirements in such a way that the type of biofuel Argentina produces in large quantities (biodiesel on soy basis) did not meet them at the last moment. There are other such examples of climate measures that are very economically convenient for the EU member states, and we should be examining them more critically.”