Climate Law and Governance


Rt Hon Mary Robinson at the Inaugural Climate Law and Governance Day

The Inaugural Climate Law and Governance Day was held on Friday, December 5th at the École de Droit de La Sorbonne in Paris, in the backdrop of the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 21 UNFCCC). This marked the first of a new biennial event bringing together jurists, representatives from research and education institutions, associations and civil society organisations in their efforts to discuss and debate the role of law and governance in supporting the battle against climate change.

The event began with a captivating speech by the Rt Hon Mary Robinson. Former Prime Minister of Ireland and President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, Robinson is well know for her work in promoting human rights and notions of justice around the world. On Friday, Robinson addressed a full room while recounting the gains human rights have made in permeating the climate change debate over the last decade. While she served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997-2000, human rights and the environment (notably climate change) existed in silos. Today, the international community recognises that the two are inextricably linked, acknowledging that climate change is indeed a human rights issue.

Robinson’s hope for the negotiations is that the Parties can produce an agreement guided by the values of the United Nations and those of human rights to create a framework that is both equitable and ambitious. Climate change is a question of justice, Robinson argued, given that that those most vulnerable to its impacts are least responsible for its occurrence – referring to the disproportionate effects climate change will have on less developed countries and the poor around the world, while the rich industrialised countries of the global north bear most of the responsibility. In her speech Robinson called on those present, and the broader governance community, to continue using law as a transformative tool to imbue the climate debate with the values of human rights, justice and equality – to assure no one is left behind.

Going into the second week of the negotiations at COP 21, it is unclear whether and how the language of human rights will have a place in the operative text of the agreement. Although the draft text  currently includes references to human rights, notably in Article 2, which figures in the purpose section of the agreement, some Parties, including Norway, Saudi Arabia and the United States have been criticised for seeking to have it removed. Nonetheless, whether reference to human rights figures in the final text or not, many, including Robinson, are optimistic that they will continue to influence and inform the global movement toward climate justice.

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