Dundee law students at COP26: Rethinking a Lawyer’s Role in the Climate Change
Why are lawyers important to tackle the upcoming challenge to go from a hydrocarbon economy to net-zero?
We wanted to get the answer and so we got up quite early to find out. At 6 o’clock in the morning of Friday the 5th November, 10 Law students from Dundee International Law Society met at the Seagate Bus station ready to go to Glasgow.
Glasgow is and was at the centre of the media reporting from all over the world. World leaders come to this city to discuss at the COP26 one of the most urgent topics mankind is facing currently – the climate change and how to stop it.
Hosted by the University of Glasgow and supported by numerous important institutions such as Cambridge University, International Law Association etc. we had the chance to participate at the Climate Law & Governance Day 2021. Several professionals from all law related professions aligned to evaluate the role jurists play in the energy transition.
After we arrived in Glasgow, in the venerable auditorium of Glasgow University, we were welcomed, inter alia, by a former UK Supreme Court Justice, the Lord provost of Glasgow and other important figures. This was striking anyway, the remarkably high qualification of the speakers throughout the day.
After the Introduction we had the possibility to take part in 4 Expert channels, which were held simultaneously. Some chose to attend a session in which the enforcement of global climate politics was discussed; others were more interested in the regulatory philosophy of the Rule of Law & Climate Finance; we were free to choose whatever we were interested in.
At lunchtime we met again in the auditorium for lunch. However, we had to realise that there were not enough lunch packets for all listeners. In a spirit of camaraderie, though, we shared the food with those of us who could not get hold of a package.
After the short lunch break, the programme continued as before. In the third session I found especially interesting a talk discussing whether the International Court of Justice is ready for an Advisory Opinion on the nexus between climate change & human rights. Given the current developments in international law, and the decisions of some national courts, in which states (such as the federal court in Germany) or companies (such as the Shell case in the Netherlands) were forced to accelerate the low carbon transition), the answer was rather yes than no. It was pointed out, however, that even in this case, an Advisory Opinion is only advisory to UN organisations and is not binding.
After the last session the outcomes of this day were summarised. The focus was on the responsibility we lawyers have. For sure, the decisions are made by politicians. But it is our task to ensure that these decisions are put into law and ultimately enforced. What good are the best words if they are not followed by action?
With these thoughts we left the official program. And some stayed in Glasgow city to review the day with a bit of liquid in pubs and a bit of singing in a karaoke bar.
By Richard Wichmann