Published on 8 December 2021
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COP26 outcomes and reasons for hope

The combined efforts of legal experts at COP26 and their pledge to scale-up worldwide climate law and governance capacity tenfold, is an invitation for more sustainable domestic and international climate law and policymaking in the future, say Tejas Rao and Freedom-Kai Phillips.

Legal and institutional transformation is urgently required to support efforts to limit global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels; to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change; to foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development; and to make finance flows consistent with a pathway towards sustainable development.

Out of 186 countries, 169 have stressed the importance of legal and institutional reform in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the global response to climate change under the Paris Agreement. As 99 countries also emphasise in their NDCs, increases in capacity and practice are crucial for implementation and compliance, as new research by the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law (CISDL), the University of Cambridge, and other partners from Climate Law and Governance Initiative has shown.

Climate finance in many forms – if private and public law and governance can be mobilised at all levels to accelerate ambition and convert ambition to obligations – is crucial in all respects. Indeed, with many countries pledging net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner, alignment of $130 trillion in finance with the Paris Agreement through the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) before 2050, and the Adaptation Fund renewed to its highest ever levels, law and governance improvements are needed now. For these pledges to meet reality, binding regulations, carefully crafted contracts, disclosure obligations, and thousands of other legal tools are required to rebuild trust, accountability and compliance towards climate justice.

As Paris Agreement representatives, observers and stakeholders gathered in Glasgow for COP26 for 12 days in early November 2021, the world also convened a community of leading law faculties and legal institutes, international organisation counsel, government authorities, law associations, judges, professionals and others responsible for inspiring, innovating and building law, policy and governance capacity.

“A massive capacity chasm is gaping in our path ahead,” says Professor Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger, Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy, Senior Director of the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law (CISDL) and Executive Secretary of the global Climate Law and Governance Initiative at COP26.

“We need dynamic climate law and public policy specialists in every country, capable and active in their bar associations, universities, firms and civil society, making net zero a reality across the board. Climate law and public policy must be taught in every law school – backed by new research and training at all levels – for even a hope to implement the Paris Agreement and advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

The Climate Law & Governance Day 2021 global symposium was co-hosted by the University of Glasgow, University of Cambridge and Strathclyde University, with the Centre for International Development Law, during the UN Framework Conference Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at COP 26. It featured 16 sessions and three high-level plenaries with over 1,100 registrants from over 120 countries in person and online.   

Environmental economist, Dr Matthew Agarwala, from the Bennett Institute, chaired a session on ‘Decarbonising International Trade by Pricing Carbon Emissions’ with distinguished experts including His Excellency Chad Blackman (Ambassador, Barbados) & Hon Pascal Lamy (Chair, Steering Group, Paris Peace Forum). Additionally, Dr Agarwala presented ideas from the Wealth Economy project in a panel hosted by Climate Policy Radar, Employing Artificial Intelligence to Analyse Climate Laws & the Future of Evidence-Based Policy & Investment.

Climate and Governance Day - COP26 2

This global symposium followed a two-day online pre-conference on ‘Climate Change, the SDGs and the Law’ co-hosted by the Bennett Institute for Public Policy and other institutions across the University of Cambridge. During its two high-level plenaries and six expert panels events, leading law professors together with early career scholars, students and practitioners, engaged with over 750 international registrants.

On 6 November 2021, key municipal, national, and international innovations developed during COP26 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 roundtable brought together leading experts from the University of Cambridge, the Net Zero Lawyers Alliance, the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law and other partners of the Climate Law and Governance Initiative, Climate Protection, Energy and Mobility (IKEM), the Asociacion Ambiente y Sociedad and Centro Humboldt.

The following day, the Climate Law & Governance Specialisation Course helped to train a new generation of specialists. Participants gained critical insights from renowned legal experts, deepening their understanding of the legal and institutional mechanisms available to implement their NDCs and the Paris Agreement. Upon completion, 163 practitioners, scholars and junior members of delegations were certified and recognised as new Climate Law and Governance Specialists. The course was hosted at the University of Strathclyde, in collaboration with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN World), Commission on Environmental Law, CISDL, and other partners.

The efforts of experts and the community at COP26 means that the future landscape can therefore be viewed with concern, but also with some optimism. The outcomes of these symposia and COP26 must serve as an invitation for more sustainable domestic and international climate law and policymaking in the future, and for increased engagement in the design, and implementation of climate change responses across all sectors and at all levels. 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.

Image 1:  Seated panel of experts on stage, set against University of Glasgow Kelvin Gallery background, with Masters of Ceremonies introducing the Climate Law and Governance Day 2021. By Dr Markus Gehring, University of Cambridge.

Image 2: A view from the back of the Kelvin Gallery, showing packed seats and standing room only for the Climate Law and Governance Day 2021.  By Mr Freedom-Kai Phillips, University of Cambridge.

Image 3: Credits: A view from the back of a seminar room, showing participants listening attentively to Dr Michal Nachmany and Dr Matthew Agarwala, seated on the panel, at the Climate Law and Governance Day 2021. Dr Antonieta Nestor,  University of Cambridge.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy.


Tejas Rao

PhD student

Tejas Rao is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge, where he is a Nehru Trust Scholar, and Research Assistant at the Bennett Institute for...

Freedom-Kai Philips

Freedom-Kai Phillips is currently Operations Director at the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law a Coordinator with the Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professorship at the University of Cambridge. He is a...

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