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Pre-COP21 event takes stock of UN negotiations, non-state climate change action & climate adjudication

Posted on 17/11/2015

In a public event held on Monday 16 November 2015, the Transnational Law Institute of The Dickson Poon School of Law examined the current state of the UN climate change negotiations and the development of climate law outside the formal UN process, particularly through adjudication in courts around the world, ahead of the upcoming Paris climate change conference in early December 2015. 

Speaking at the event were Dr Eloise Scotford, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Law at the School, and TLI Research Fellow Stephen Minas. Dr Scotford discussed the legally disruptive nature of climate change, drawing on a paper co-authored with Prof Liz Fisher, University of Oxford, and Dr Emily Barritt, King’s College London, and the recent ‘Adjudicating the Future’ symposium on climate change and the rule of law held at King’s, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Supreme Court. Stephen Minas gave an update on the UNFCCC negotiations and discussed the significance for the legal profession of the growth of climate initiatives by non-state actors.

The pervasive nature of climate change as an environmental and economic challenge has implications for a multitude of legal relationships and legal rights. As Dr Scotford observed, ‘increasingly, legal systems are being confronted by climate change as a problem, particularly through the courts’. Legal disputes increasingly arriving in legal forums range from claims from vulnerable communities threatened by the effects of climate change to disputes over emissions trading allowances, alongside ‘headline cases’ like Urgenda and Leghari. Climate change-related disputes may not fit ‘existing grooves’ of legal reasoning and doctrine. 'The big challenge for lawyers and for scholars in particular is how to reconcile this kind of legal disruption with the role that adjudication plays in maintaining the stability of legal orders’, Dr Scotford said. This challenge will only be intensified in the wake of the UN Climate Change Agreement determined in Paris, which will likely leave national and regional courts and legislatures with much work to do in sorting out the legal implications and dimensions of a new international climate regime.

This broader landscape of climate law is also highlighted by the growing set of commitments by non-state actors that sit alongside national pledges on climate change mitigation and adaptation under the UN climate convention, including pledges to reduce emissions, invest in renewable energy and take other action to deal with climate change, as captured by the UN’s Lima-Paris Action Agenda. Stephen Minas characterized these non-state climate initiatives as both an opportunity and a challenge for the legal profession, particularly as focus shifts to implementation. ‘These different forms of climate action by cities, financial institutions, businesses and indeed national governments require a great deal of legal advice. Some of them will generate disputes that will have to be resolved. They touch on many areas of law which are not traditionally thought of as environmental law - contract, securities, corporate law.’

The Dickson Poon School of Law’s engagement with climate change continues with the launch of Dr Megan Bowman’s book ‘Banking on Climate Change: How Finance Actors and Transnational Regulatory Regimes Are Responding’ on 30 November.

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