What can law mean for climate change?

Rosa Manzo participated on COP26 as UiO's head of of delegation. She has written this this blog where she shares her reflections on the conference and the role of law in combating climate change. 

The 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Framework Convention on Climate Change  (UNFCCC) (hereafter COP 26) was held in Glasgow from to 31 October until 14th of November 2021. The UiO Faculty of Law sent a small delegation to the UN climate summit. The delegation consisted of Ass. Prof. Maria Lundberg, Rosa Manzo, PhD (UiO head of delegation), as well as students Bas de Klerk, Hylla Barbosa and Roberto Coll.

The two intensive weeks of negotiations were preceded by a World Leaders Summit where 120 Heads of State made statement on the state of the climate and their current and future plans to curb GHG emissions.

The outcome of the two week negotiations represents a pinnacle moment in forging international law, and the negotiation process can be regarded as the peak of a surgical process in the sense that the adopted rules are carefully modelled.  This year COP has taken on more value than expected. The Paris Rulebook after long negotiations – started in 2016- has been finalized. Especially the rules for the functioning of the carbon market have been forged and passed by consensus of all Parties. The main achievements can be found under the three areas:  transparency, compliance, and carbon markets.

In the last years the UNFCCC COP has become more significant due to the high number of side events, which are used to take place in parallel to the negotiations.

In the plethora of COP 26 events, four of them have touched upon on a timely and crucial topic concerning the role of law in the context of climate change. Under the umbrella of this overarching theme, several events were co-organized by PluriCourts (and chaired by UiO Professor Christina Voigt).

On 5th November the Climate Change Governance Initiative, in cooperation with PluriCourts - gathered a significant number of participants, including notable speakers such as Adv Douglas Leys (General Counsel, Green Climate Fund), Prof David Boyd (UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and the Environment), Prof Christina Voigt (Chair, PluriCourts/ IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law / Co-Chair, Paris Agreement Implementation and Compliance Committee / University of Oslo), Adv Wendy Miles QC (Chair, CLGI Commercial Law / Barrister, Twenty Essex / Representative, Net Zero Lawyers Alliance), Dr Jan Beagle (Director-General, International Development Law Organization), and Adv Michael Strauss (General Counsel, European Bank for Reconstruction & Development) invited among other keynote speakers.

During the initiatve, more than 12 expert panels were arranged, including experts panel I on “Rising Temperatures, Expanding Human Rights and the Obligations of States and Private Actors for Global Climate Justice”, experts Panel II on “Scaling-up Paris Agreement Implementation through Climate Legislation”, experts at Panel XII on  “Advancing Climate Justice through the World’s Highest Court”. The last one - of particular importance for PluriCourts - has questioned whether International Court of Justice is ready for an Advisory Opinion on the nexus between climate change and human rights.  Of significant note is the panel on Implementation and compliance where UiO Professor Christina Voigt illustrated the challenges and obstacles related to the establishment and functioning of the Paris Agreement Compliance Committee which together with a robust and effective legal framework contributes to advance the fair transformative actions needed to curb global GHG emissions.

On 6th November, “The Paris Agreement Implementation and Compliance Committee (PAICC) side-event was held under the auspices of the UNFCCC. It was the first public appearance of the committee which has extraordinary managed to conclude over the two years of covid-pandemic and in spite of the absence of any physical meetings.  It is going without saying that the event was one of the most relevant ones given the essential role that compliance plays in securing and promoting the implementation of international law by each Party as well as their accountability.

Good practice and consistency in information and assistance are presented as the key elements of PAICC which aims to build mutual trust among the Parties to the Paris Agreement. As highlighted several times, PIACC will have a supportive nature.

The third side-event “Climate Change Legislation, Litigation and the Rule of Law” took place as at the University of Strathclyde at the end of the first week of negotiations, when the debate of a potential unsuccessful outcome of the COP 26 negotiations was featured on the majority of national newspapers. The event was enriched by the attendance of notable speakers, including Justice Antonio Herman Benjamin, Justice of the High Court of Brazil, Lord Carnwath, Former Justice of the UK Supreme Court and UiO Prof. Christina Voigt. The event provided a moment of  in-depth reflection on the role of litigation in ensuring the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The spectrum on discussions was not limited to national courts, but was extended to international courts as well to arbitral tribunals and human rights courts.  

The final event FutureLab- Window of Opportunity” took place in the middle of the second week of negotiations. It is frequent  the question regarding the role of law and legal actions and often citizens show disappointments for the lack of effective laws or legislations meant to strengthen climate change compliance by States and corporations. A set of questions were at the centre of the discussion: What can law do? Is climate change law enforceable? How can we make climate change law more enforceable at national level? The panel “A judicial dialogue on the potential of future decision making” chaired by Prof. Christina Voigt was preceded by a screening of video-edit clip carrying messages from Supreme Court Judges around the world. The judges were the following: Judge Noer (Norway) Judge Dambuza (South Africa), Judge Benjamin (Brazil), Judge Mansoor Ali Shah (Pakistan), Judge Lavrysen (Belgium), Judge Preston (Australia) Lord Carnwath (UK).

While the speakers were positive in regards to the further developments of climate litigation, they underlined the need to engage in a worldwide discussion on the topic.  As highlighted by Justice Lord Carnwath, a global community of judges must work together for elaborating specific remedies. With this in mind, one has to be read the contribution made by Justice Rafaela Santons Marins da Rosa who has launched a national pilot-project which aims at providing a climate change training for Brazilian judges.   

In conclusion, the short answer to the question “Is there a question of law and its role in the context of climate change?” is a “yes”, which opens up further room for discussion at national and global levels.


By Rosa Manzo
Published Nov. 25, 2021 8:14 AM - Last modified Nov. 25, 2021 8:19 AM
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