Based on their new policy brief, Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger and Tejas Rao summarise how institutes of all kinds must play a critical role in scaling up contributions to build climate change action.
Our century faces critical global risks and challenges, including rising poverty, global pandemics and the shattering of planetary boundaries, especially in relation to global climate change. The science is clear. Human activities, particularly rising emissions levels due to fossil fuel combustion and other embedded high carbon intensity economic systems, are causing dangerous consequences.
Under the Paris Agreement, Parties are obliged to submit and maintain an up-to-date Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) in accordance with Article 4; to provide reports related to emissions reductions and technology transfer as per Article 13.7 and 13.9 and on financial contributions as per Article 9.5 and 9.7; and to participate (in good faith) in the facilitative dialogue.
Such obligations, which can lead to referral to the Paris Agreement Implementation and Compliance Committee (PAICC) if Parties to the treaty are unable to achieve them, are supported by a series of cooperative arrangements, mechanisms and other provisions, in a complex and engaging regime to keep human contributions to global climate change below dangerous levels.
Despite the intricate international accord and many firm pledges by Parties, however, implementation of the Paris Agreement across all Parties remains a critical challenge. Each facet of the regime requires embedded regional and domestic regulatory, institutional and public policy capacity, and this capacity remains extremely limited in nearly all jurisdictions.
New key national net zero commitments accompanied 151 new NDCs announced for 2030, noting also India’s goal by 2070 and the US by 2050. If fully implemented, these pledges would lead to 1.8°C to 2.4°C of global warming by 2100. However, realising these commitments together with new NDCs, in order to keep a pathway to 1.5°C viable, will require a broad range of law and public policy innovations and the scale up of legal capacity. Of the 186 nationally determined contributions in the first-round of submissions, 169 Parties explicitly prioritised the need for legal or institutional reform to achieve their global contribution to climate change, with 99 Parties calling for increasing capacity-building for action, according to Centre for International Sustainable Development (CISDL) and Climate Law and Governance Initiative (CLGI) research and analysis in 2021. The world’s climate law and public policy community, now more than ever, must find new ways to strengthen knowledge, capacity and practice – exponentially.
In order to convert ambitious new commitments into obligations, legal and public policy reform can contribute to many aspects of implementing the outcomes of the Glasgow CoP26 and beyond, particularly with regards greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions mitigation, adaptation and resilience in the face of climate change impacts, and climate finance.
Towards more ambitious GHG emissions mitigation, rule of law, supported by enabling legal frameworks and human rights protection can achieve more sustainable GHG emission reductions.
Adaptation and resilience also involve public policy and legal adjustments to reduce vulnerability and risk, to respond to disasters and recover from unavoidable impacts of climate change.
Further, public policy innovation and legal reform is also crucial to support accountable, effective mobilisation and investment of climate finance.
During CoP26 and beyond, over 200 committed law and governance partners came together through the Climate Law and Governance Initiative (CLGI) to share lessons among a growing community of practice and chart the future for this critical field – actively engaging professors, practitioners, judges and other leaders from international organisations, judiciaries, institutes, leading law firms and universities. Together, they pledged to increase climate law and governance capacity worldwide tenfold – from 600 to 6,000 legal specialists by 2024, engaging qualified leaders in every legal system and converting ambition to obligation worldwide.
To successfully bridge the capacity chasm in climate law and public policy, institutions of all kinds must urgently undertake increased efforts to open opportunities for newly capable graduates and professionals to succeed in careers furthering the 17 SDGs. Research and educational institutions will play a critical role in scaling up contributions to build capacity for climate change action, and much work remains to harness the full potential of law and policy communities of practice to foster, rather than frustrate, sustainable development.
1Voigt, C (2016). The Compliance and Implementation Mechanism of the Paris Agreement. Review of European, Comparative & International Environmental Law. Maljean-Dubois, S, Ibrahim, I. and Owley, J. (2021). The Paris Agreement Compliance Committee. Wake Forest Law Review.
2Sun, R., Gao, X. et al. (2022) Is the Paris Rulebook Sufficient for Effective Implementation of the Paris Agreement. Advances in Climate Change Research. Online. See also, Tobin, P. and Barritt, J. (2021). Glasgow’s COP26: The Need for Urgency at ‘The Next Paris’. Political Insight. Online.
3UNFCCC (2022). Paris Committee on Capacity-Building. Online.
4Birol, F. (2021). CoP26 Climate Pledges Could Help Limit Global Warming to 1.8 °C but Implementing Them will be the Key. International Energy Agency Commentary. Online.
5McDermott, M., Zambianchi V., Cordonier Segger M.C. et al (2021). Report on the Importance of Legal and Institutional Reforms in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of the Paris Agreement. Centre for International Sustainable Development Law. Online.
6Cordonier Segger, M.C. (2016). Advancing the Paris Agreement on Climate Change for Sustainable Development. Cambridge International Law Journal. See also, Cordonier Segger, M.C. (2021). Leverhulme Lecture: Accelerating Paris Agreement Compliance for Sustainable Development. Online. Cordonier Segger, M.C. and Reynaud, P. (eds.) (2015). Green Economy for Sustainable Development: Compendium of Legal Best Practices. Online.
7Cordonier Segger, M.C. (2016). Advancing the Paris Agreement on Climate Change for Sustainable Development. Cambridge International Law Journal. See also, Cordonier Segger, M.C. (2021). Leverhulme Lecture: Accelerating Paris Agreement Compliance for Sustainable Development. Online. Cordonier Segger, M.C. and Reynaud, P. (eds.) (2015). Green Economy for Sustainable Development: Compendium of Legal Best Practices. Online.
8In late October 2021, CLGI partners co-hosted an online academic climate law and public policy preparatory conference on Climate Change, the SDGs and the Law at the University of Cambridge, with over 750 registrants from over 90 countries. On Friday, 05 November, during CoP26, over 1,100 registrants from over 120 countries joined in Climate Law and Governance Day (CLGD) 2021 hosted online and in-person at the University of Glasgow, in partnership with Strathclyde and Cambridge universities, for 3 high level plenaries and 16 substantive sessions spanning all aspects of law and climate change. The Day culminated in a celebration of the new laureates of the 2021 Climate Law & Governance Global Leadership Awards and the 2021 International Student Essay Competition. To share outcomes at CoP26 itself, on 06 November key municipal, national, and international legal innovations were shared in an Official Side-Event on Net Zero Climate Law and Governance – Advancing Ambition and Action to Implement the Paris Agreement and the SDGs. The interactive legal roundtable brought together leading experts from the Net Zero Lawyers Alliance, Centre for International Sustainable Development Law (CISDL), Glasgow Centre for International Law and Security (GCILS) and other partners of the Climate Law and Governance Initiative, also IKEM, the Asociacion Ambiente y Sociedad and Centro Humboldt. Further, on 07 November 2021, helping to train a new generation of specialists world-wide, the Climate Law & Governance Specialization Course hosted in the University of Strathclyde certified 163 in person and virtual participants from over 60 countries.