New year, new journal title, and new exploration into climate change action with the 4th MJSDL Colloquium

Rosine Faucher est une étudiante en droit à l’Université McGill. Elle détient un baccalauréat en sciences politiques lors duquel elle a eu la chance de travailler pour la Chair UNESCO-Mcgill Dialogues pour un avenir durable, ainsi que pour le Secrétariat de la Convention sur la diversité biologique, une branche du programme des Nations Unies pour l’environnement. Elle est couramment rédactrice au sein de la Revue

MJSDLP’s 4th Colloquium, The World after the Paris Agreement. Attribution: Adrian Pel.

MJSDLP’s 4th Colloquium, The World after the Paris Agreement. Attribution: Adrian Pel.

The McGill Journal of Sustainable Development Law (MJSDL) had a busy Friday, with the Journal’s fourth colloquium taking place. The World after the Paris Agreement was composed of two panels and concluded with a talk from our keynote speaker, Professor Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger.

The first panel, Hope and Skepticism: Is the Paris Agreement the Solution? was moderated by Professor Jaye Ellis, and featured an enlightening conversation about what effects the Paris Agreement would or would not have in the future. At first, Christopher Campbell-Durufle presented his doctoral thesis, which essentially evaluates the role of the Paris RuleBook in making the Paris Agreement successful. Christopher Campbell-Durufle highlighted the Agreement’s main advantage: its diffuse legality in climate change. By involving states and non-state actors, as well as emphasising increased transparency through binding and non-binding processes, compliance, he argues, seems more realistic.

On the other hand, Bruce Pardy argued that the Paris Agreement was not stringent enough on parties because it maintained a principle present in climate change negotiations since the beginning, that of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR). Our earth being a common, the dilemma of internalising externalities, trends of emissions in developing countries such as China, the financial aspect of the Paris Agreement, and finally populist resistance towards environmentally minded measures with financial impacts on individuals make the CBDR principle and more generally the Paris Agreement flawed. The Paris Agreement should thus be put aside, as a solution encapsulating the Stockholm principle would be more appropriate in order to tackle climate change.

Tracy Bach argued the opposite. For her, the Paris Agreement is another step ahead towards climate change adaptation and mitigation. However, she suggests focusing on the national and subnational level, and more specifically to litigation, in order to see the positive impacts of climate change negotiations. Tracy Bach argues that climate change negotiations have an impact on the discursive tools used by litigants to support claims of environmental degradation. Many elements of these negotiations, e.g. information extracted from NDCs, are integrated in claimants’ arguments and are successful, like the case fought by Urgenda in the Netherlands.

Similarly to Christopher Campbell-Durufle, Géraud de Lassus Saint-Geniès examined the nexus between the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement to understand the legal significance of their connection. In inquiring if the Paris Agreement is an implementation protocol of the UNFCCC or should be interpreted more broadly, Géraud de Lassus Saint-Geniès argues that in moving forward an attempt towards minimising such interpretative ambiguity would make the Paris Agreement stronger.

The panel finished on a very inviting note by David Coon who advocates that a low carbon society is a projet de société and depends on our willingness as communities to take action. He pointed to historically successful examples like the Révolution Tranquille as inspiration to find a way forward. This panel gave rise to many questions. People raised issues ranging from equality to the technicality engrained in processes and agreements emanating from climate change negotiations.

The second panel, A Practical Point of View: Implementation, Implications and Effects, moderated by Ayman Cherkaoui, focused, as the title suggests, on local impacts of the Paris Agreement. Most panellists addressed the impact of the Paris Agreement in Canada (either at the federal or the provincial level). Our last speaker did touch on the impacts (or lack thereof) such agreement would have in the United States. Audrey Dépault opened the discussion by presenting the Pan-Canadian Framework, i.e. the implementation tool of the Paris Agreement in Canada. Such framework was designed using British Colombia’s climate policies as a benchmark. It suggests measures such as establishing a carbon pricing system. It also stipulates that all provinces should commit to at least the federal Green House Gas emission reduction target, i.e. 30%. For Audrey Dépault, “It only makes sense that if Canada led the discussions during the Paris Agreement negotiations that it now leads its implementation.”

Duncan M. McPherson raised issues at the provincial level of such Pan-Canadian framework, adopting an Albertan perspective. Indeed, Duncan M. McPherson highlighted challenges resulting from imposing a general carbon pricing system throughout the country, suggesting that provinces like Alberta might not be able to afford a climate plan where the price of carbon ultimately rises up to $50/t in 2022. How the federal government will deal with Saskatchewan, which is not part of the Pan-Canadian Framework, might have an impact on the political answer of the Albertan government regarding its currently suggested carbon pricing scheme.

The Ontario perspective was explored by Tyson Dyck, who suggested that there were challenges when a national framework and international commitments relied on implementation of sub-national programs. Attribution of international emission reduction, price certainty and effective pricing signals are different issues standing in the way of achieving Canada’s nationally determined contribution. Finally, Paul Astolfi ended this panel by presenting a United States perspective of the Paris Agreement. Questions such as “Are the United States bound to the Agreement by law?” were explored, with Paul Astolfi suggesting that the president has some but not absolute influence on the outcome post-Paris Agreement.

Key Note Speaker Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger, Advancing Climate Law and Governance for Sustainable Development. Attribution: Adrian Pel.

Key Note Speaker Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger, Advancing Climate Law and Governance for Sustainable Development. Attribution: Adrian Pel.

This fourth MJSLD Colloquium ended on a great note, with the presentation Advancing Climate Law and Governance for Sustainable Development from our keynote speaker Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger. She started by explaining why one should look at the Paris Agreement with hope. Climate change is more and more felt everywhere. What was once something happening far away is now a very part of our daily reality. Climate change affects us all and has personal impacts. The Paris Agreement, through its shared commitments, e.g. passing from a 2-degree increase to a 1.5-degree Celsius increase, is thus an acknowledgement that climate change is now globally recognised. Moreover, obligations featured in the Paris Agreement, like increased transparency and nationally determined contributions, further support this global change of mindset. However, among other things, the treaty depends on rapid ratification at the national level. Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger highlighted the importance of the law in contributing to climate change mitigation. Indeed, law and its concerns for gender equality, compliance, equity and access to justice must be kept in mind in the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger thus invites jurists to join the effort and help making the Paris Agreement a working tool to combat climate change.

Thank you everyone for joining, helping and making this event a great success. And hopefully, see you next year!


Interested in reading on other MJSDL Colloquiums? We suggest this selected past piece: 

This piece is referenced as suggested reading. It should not be taken to imply its author share the views expressed above. 

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