Will the creation of the crime of ecocide at the international and national level hold those who cause severe and irreversible harm to the environment liable?

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By Harry Muir, Third Year LLB student 

Earth is at the precipice of an environmental catastrophe that could result in the mass extinction of life as we know it.[1] Yet, corporate and government leaders are still committing and condoning acts that have a detrimental effect on the environment for profit and personal gain.[2] Although these leaders have the power to change their practices, little is being done to do so.[3] Arguments have therefore arisen that by using existing legal mechanisms, a crime could encapsulate these destructive acts to the environment and climate;[4] this crime is known as ecocide.[5] Ecocide has developed substantially since first being discussed after the use of ‘agent orange’ during the Vietnam war[6] and today, more discourse is taking place that a crime of ecocide could become a tool to save the earth[7] on a fast track to environmental collapse.[8]

This blog post will critically discuss that whilst the introduction of ecocide at a national level could act to hold those who cause severe and irreversible environmental damage accountable, the proposed international crime of ecocide would potentially be far better at achieving this goal.

Ecocide: discussion at the international level

At the international level, there is currently no crime that specifically prosecutes ecocide.[9] In response to this, academics such as Higgins have targeted the International Criminal Court (ICC) to recognise the crime of ecocide as a fifth ‘missing crime against peace’[10] under the Rome Statute[11] especially as ecocide was included in the draft Rome Statute.[12] Critical opinion has focused on the ICC’s existing legal provisions not being sufficient enough; for instance, their only reference to the protection of the environment is in relation to harm caused in wartime[13] which ignores ecocide committed in peacetimes such as severe deforestation[14] or oil spills.[15] An ICC policy paper in 2016 outlined environmental damage could be considered in relation to existing crimes[16] which Mwanza notes, demonstrates a ‘green shift’ at the ICC.[17] This green shift is apparent as a petition against President Bolsonaro for his ‘crimes against humanity’ explicitly references ecocide in relation to the mass deforestation of the Amazon[18] and therefore could be seen as a method to hold those who cause ecocide liable and protect the environment. Pereira is however critical about this shift as the other ‘crimes against peace’ have high mens rea requirements[19] and difficult evidential burdens[20] proving a hindrance to the actual prosecution of environmental harm. Therefore, an international crime of ecocide would be far better suited at holding those who cause destructive acts against the environment liable than existing provisions.

In response to the lack of environmental protections in the Rome Statute, a historic legal ecocide definition was drafted by an independent expert panel (IEP)[21] specifically for the Rome Statute[22] which is as follows:

‘“Ecocide” means unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts’[23]

An element of this definition that has been the focus of academic debate has been the ‘wanton’ element which will be discussed. Wantonness arguably imports an ‘anthropocentric element’ which contradicts the entire ‘ecocentric’ nature of the crime of ecocide commented on by Minkova.[24]The implications of this element, according to Keller, mean severe, irreversible, and long-term damage to the environment can be committed[25] so long as there is a good enough reason for it.[26] Thus, corporate and government actors could argue they have committed ecocide for the public benefit therefore limiting accountability if they have the resources to argue their way out of liability.[27] Mehta would however disagree as the crime is still mostly ‘ecocentric’ in a predominantly ‘anthropocentric’ legal system.[28]

It is however argued that deterrence would be a powerful mechanism behind this international crime of ecocide at the ICC.[29] It is important to note that, in order to change the Rome Statute to include ecocide, one signatory must bring an official proposal[30] and only two-thirds of ICC signatories must agree to enable amendment.[31]  This proposal however has the possibility of being effectively ‘timed-out’ when the proposal is not brought within a specific time frame as seen with Bangladesh, Samoa and Vanuatu’s ecocide proposal[32] even so, actual implementation potentially could take up to 5 years.[33] These strict time limits and lengthy implementation dates are of a significant hindrance as again the world is in need of immediate environmental protection to safeguard the future. This being said, as corporation CEO’s want to keep a ‘clean’ reputation,[34] they understandably do not associate with an equivalent crime to genocide or war crimes[35] as this could be detrimental to their business stock price and profit.[36] Academics predict that ecocide’s recognition at the ICC would act to immediately instigate a change in corporate business practises causing ecocide[37] by creating a duty for governments and corporations to not disregard the environment and therefore encouraging the adoption of a green economy.[38] Deterrence would therefore serve as an immensely powerful mechanism to combat crimes of ecocide immediately long before the expected 5-year amendment process into the Rome Statute. These however are only predictions and in the meantime as Greene proposes, national provisions could be created and implemented immediately as an alternative to international provisions.[39]

Ecocide: discussion at the national level

A crime of ecocide in national legislation however comes with enforcement and implementation difficulties which will be critically discussed in light of current national provisions in relation to government and corporations who commit ecocide.[40]

Both Russia[41] and Ukraine[42] criminalise ecocide in their respective criminal codes and in the current context of the war facilitated by Russia, Putin’s acts have constituted ecocide.[43] However, although these provisions exist, they are only as powerful as the countries’ legal system and their respect for the rule of law as commented on by Schwegler[44] which likely means Putin will not be held accountable under existing national provisions.[45]

There has also been difficulty holding corporations accountable under national provisions[46] which is critical as they significantly harm the environment with their actions.[47] A country who has taken a step to hold corporate actors accountable is Guatemala for example, who have recognised an ecocide law which held a palm oil corporation liable for ecocide for causing severe damage to the waterways and the surrounding eco-system.[48] As Greene however illustrates, enforcement of this ruling created difficulties especially as the corporation has now gone back to polluting the river again constituting an act of ecocide[49] arguably not having the predicted deterrent effect discussed earlier.[50] It is therefore no surprise that the implementation of an international crime of ecocide was outlined as the next logical step in response to this ruling.[51]

The UK has been reluctant to criminalise ecocide at a national level with recent proposals to include ecocide as a crime punishable with 30 years’ imprisonment in The Environment Bill[52] being removed after arguments prevailed that economic activity would be severely impacted due to environmental criminalisation.[53] The UK sees ecocide as a barrier rather than an opportunity as they have the resources to be a pioneer and utilise existing green technologies to thrive with nature[54] enabling the development of a ‘green’ economy.[55] France, on the other hand, recently recognised ecocide as an offence punishable with up to 10 years imprisonment or a 4.5 million euro fine.[56] Ecocide was changed from a criminal to a civil offence due to the potential stigmatisation of businesses’ economic activity;[57] however, the prison penalty associated with the crime should still act as a deterrent[58] in protecting the environment.

Conclusion

In light of the arguments presented, criminalisation of ecocide in the Rome Statute would be the best option for holding those who severely damage the environment accountable due to its predicted deterrent effect as a ‘crime against peace’. In comparison, although national ecocide provisions could act immediately to protect the environment, difficulties in enactment and enforcement are major drawbacks to accountability and environmental protection.


[1] Tim Lindgren, ‘Ecocide, genocide and the disregard of alternative life-systems’ [2018] 22 International Journal of Human Rights 525, 528.

[2] Rob White, ‘Ecocide and the Carbon Crimes of the Powerful’ [2018] 37 University of Tasmania Law Review 95, 102.

[3] Vanessa Schwegler, ‘The Disposable Nature: The Case of Ecocide and Corporate Accountability’ [2017] 9 Amsterdam Law Forum 71, 81.

[4] Polly Higgins, Damien Short and Nigel South, ‘Protecting the planet: a proposal for a law of ecocide’ [2013] 59 Crime Law and Social Change 251, 252-254.

[5] Sailesh Mehta and Prisca Merz, ‘Ecocide – a new crime against peace’ [2015] 17 Environmental Law Review 4.

[6] Saloni Malhotra, ‘The International Crime That Could Have Been but Never Was: An English School Perspective on the Ecocide Law’ [2017] 9 Amsterdam LF 49, 52.

[7] Jojo Mehta, ‘Ecocide: a crime against the planet’ [2021] 66 Journal of the Law Society of Scotland 24, 25.

[8] D Carrington, ‘World close to ‘irreversible’ climate breakdown, warn major studies’ The Guardian (27 October 2022)

[9] E Trigt, ‘A Legal Definition of Ecocide’ (Peace Palace Library, 15 July 2021) <https://peacepalacelibrary.nl/blog/2021/legal-definition-ecocide>

[10] Polly Higgins, ‘Seeding Intrinsic Values: How a Law of Ecocide will Shift our Consciousness’ [2012] 1 Cadmus Journal 9.

[11] The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court art 5

[12] Saloni Malhotra, ‘The International crime that could have been but never was an English school perspective on the ecocide law’ [2017] 9 Amsterdam Law Forum 49, 53.

[13] The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, art 8(2)(b)(iv)

[14] Danilo Urzedo and Pratichi Chatterjee, ‘The Colonial Reproduction of Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon: Violence Against Indigenous Peoples for Land Development’ [2021] 23 Journal of Genocide Research 302, 304.

[15] Ricardo Pereira, ‘After the ICC office of the prosecutor’s 2016 policy paper on case selection and prioritisation: towards an international crime of ecocide?’ [2020] 31 Criminal Law Forum 179, 196.

[16] Office of the Prosecutor, Policy Paper On Case Selection And Prioritisation, 15 September 2016, <https://www.icc-cpi.int/news/policy-paper-case-selection-and-prioritisation>

[17] Rosemary Mwanza, ‘Enhancing Accountability for Environmental Damage under International Law: Ecocide as a Legal Fulfilment of Ecological Integrity [2018] 19 Melbourne Journal of International Law 586, 598.

[18] Danilo Urzedo and Pratichi Chatterjee, ‘The Colonial Reproduction of Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon: Violence Against Indigenous Peoples for Land Development’ [2021] 23 Journal of Genocide Research 302, 304.

[19] Ricardo Pereira, ‘After the ICC office of the prosecutor’s 2016 policy paper on case selection and prioritisation: towards an international crime of ecocide?’ [2020] 31 Criminal Law Forum 179, 215.

[20] Ibid, 211.

[21] Haroon Siddique, ‘Legal experts worldwide draw up ‘historic’ definition of ecocide’ The Guardian (London, 22 June 2021)

[22] Jojo Mehta, ‘Ecocide: a crime against the planet’ [2021] 66 Journal of the Law Society of Scotland 24, 24-25.

[23] Stop Ecocide Foundation, ‘Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide’ (June 2021) <https://www.stopecocide.earth/legal-definition>

[24] Liana Georgieva Minkova, ‘The fifth international crime: reflections on the definition of “Ecocide”’ Journal of Genocide Research (forthcoming).

[25] J K Heller, ‘Fiddling (With Ecocide) While Rome (and Everywhere Else) Burns’ (Volkerrechtsblog, 18 February 2022) <https://voelkerrechtsblog.org/fiddling-with-ecocide-while-rome-and-everywhere-else-burns/>

[26] J K Heller, ‘Skeptical Thoughts on the Proposed Crime of “Ecocide” (That Isn’t)’ (OpinioJuris, 23 June 2021) <http://opiniojuris.org/2021/06/23/skeptical-thoughts-on-the-proposed-crime-of-ecocide-that-isnt/>

[27] Liana Georgieva Minkova, ‘The fifth international crime: reflections on the definition of “Ecocide”’ Journal of Genocide Research (forthcoming).

[28] Jojo Mehta, ‘Ecocide: a crime against the planet’ [2021] 66 Journal of the Law Society of Scotland 24, 25.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Polly Higgins, ‘Seeding Intrinsic Values: How a Law of Ecocide will Shift our Consciousness’ [2012] 1 Cadmus Journal 9.

[31] K Mackintosh, J Mehta and R Rogers, ‘Prosecuting Ecocide’ (Project Syndicate, 31 Aug 2021) <https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/the-icc-should-recognize-ecocide-as-an-international-crime-by-kate-mackintosh-et-al-2021-08>

[32] K Surma, ‘A plea to make widespread environmental damage an international crime takes centre stage at The Hague’ Inside Climate News (Pittsburgh, 7 December 2021)

[33] Jojo Mehta, ‘Ecocide: a crime against the planet’ [2021] 66 Journal of the Law Society of Scotland 24, 25.

[34] Vanessa Schwegler, ‘’The Disposable Nature: The Case of Ecocide and Corporate Accountability’ [2017] 9 Amsterdam Law Forum 71, 98.

[35] R Killean, ‘Could criminalising ecocide increase accountability for environmental harm in conflicts?’ (Conflict and Environment Observatory, 22 April 2021) <https://ceobs.org/could-criminalising-ecocide-increase-accountability-for-environmental-harm-in-conflicts/>

[36] Jojo Mehta, ‘Ecocide: a crime against the planet’ [2021] 66 Journal of the Law Society of Scotland 24, 25.

[37] Vanessa Schwegler, ‘’The Disposable Nature: The Case of Ecocide and Corporate Accountability’ [2017] 9 Amsterdam Law Forum 71, 86.

[38] Polly Higgins, Damien Short and Nigel South, ‘Protecting the planet: a proposal for a law of ecocide’ [2013] 59 Crime Law and Social Change 251, 261.

[39] Anastacia Greene, ‘The campaign to make ecocide an international crime: Quixotic Quest or Moral Imperative?’ [2019] 30 Fordham Environmental Law Review 1, 46.

[40]Rob White, ‘Ecocide and the Carbon Crimes of the Powerful’ [2018] 37 University of Tasmania Law Review 95, 102.

[41] The Criminal Code of the Russia Federation No. 63-FZ of June 13, 1996, art 358.

[42] The Criminal Code of Ukraine of September 1, 2001, art 441.

[43] S Smith, ‘This is ecocide’: Ukrainians hope to rebuild greener country after Russian war ravages environment’, The Independent (19 March 2022).

[44] Vanessa Schwegler, ‘’The Disposable Nature: The Case of Ecocide and Corporate Accountability’ [2017] 9 Amsterdam Law Forum 71, 94.

[45] R Killean, ‘Legal accountability for environmental destruction in Ukraine’ (Conflict and Environment Observatory, 7 March 2022) <https://ceobs.org/legal-accountability-for-environmental-destruction-in-ukraine/>

[46] Vanessa Schwegler, ‘’The Disposable Nature: The Case of Ecocide and Corporate Accountability’ [2017] 9 Amsterdam Law Forum 71, 92.

[47] Jojo Mehta, ‘Ecocide: a crime against the planet’ [2021] 66 Journal of the Law Society of Scotland 24, 25.

[48] B Whitford, ‘Court ruling advances case for ecocide law’ (Positive News, April 22 2016) <https://www.positive.news/environment/court-ruling-advances-case-ecocide-law/>

[49] Anastacia Greene, ‘The campaign to make ecocide an international crime: Quixotic Quest or Moral Imperative?’ [2019] 30 Fordham Environmental Law Review 1, 21-22.

[50] Jojo Mehta, ‘Ecocide: a crime against the planet’ [2021] 66 Journal of the Law Society of Scotland 24, 25.

[51] B Whitford, ‘Court ruling advances case for ecocide law’ (Positive News, April 22 2016) <https://www.positive.news/environment/court-ruling-advances-case-ecocide-law/>

[52] Environmental HL Bill (2019-21) 16, cl 133

[53] HL deb 14 July 2021, vol 813, col 1900

[54] Jojo Mehta, ‘Ecocide: a crime against the planet’ [2021] 66 Journal of the Law Society of Scotland 24, 25.

[55] Polly Higgins, Damien Short and Nigel South, ‘Protecting the planet: a proposal for a law of ecocide’ [2013] 59 Crime Law and Social Change 251, 257.

[56] No. 2021-1104 of August 22, 2021, Climate and Resilience Law, art 231-233.

[57] L Alderman and C Meheut, ‘‘Going Green, or Greenwashing? A proposed climate law divides France’ New York Times (19 May 2021)

[58] Jojo Mehta, ‘Ecocide: a crime against the planet’ [2021] 66 Journal of the Law Society of Scotland 24, 25.


Thinking differently, engaging differently: Neurodivergence in the Criminal Justice System and the role of the Bar

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In October 2022, Dr Tom Smith published the first of a two-part series of articles examining how the experience and engagement of neurodivergent individuals (for example, those who are autistic or have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)) drawn into the criminal justice system (CJS) can be more effectively and fairly managed by criminal defence barristers, when undertaking their role as legal representatives. Whilst not a set term, neurodivergence commonly describes cognitive development which varies from the typical, primarily related to and affective of communication, learning, attention, sensory processing, and mood regulation (among other aspects of cognition and behaviour). Evidence suggests that significant barriers to a positive and effective experience for neurodivergent individuals remain at all stages, including in policing, courts and prisons (see, for example, the Criminal Justice Joint Inspection, published in July 2021).  

As facilitators of access to justice, lawyers can either mitigate or aggravate these issues (in the same way they can for any vulnerable participant); they are therefore key to ensuring that neurodivergent individuals – whether as an accused person or a victim of crime – are able to engage with the CJS on an equal basis with their neurotypical peers. This is particularly the case for barristers and advocates representing neurodivergent defendants at trial and sentence. It is clearly vital to the right to a fair trial that the accused is represented effectively by their lawyer; as part of this, barristers and advocates must discharge their duty to protect and advance the best interests of their client in a meaningful way.  

In the context of neurodivergent individuals, such principles arguably demand a more specialised approach which is carefully adapted to the needs of those being represented. This is particularly the case in relation to direct engagement (for example, client conferences or taking instructions); advocating for a client in court; and ensuring that clients are able to access hearings effectively through engagement with the court and other parties. Ultimately, providing good legal representation requires more than grasping the nuances of facts, case law, legislation, and procedures pertinent to a client’s cause. Good lawyering can only be realised if lawyers are also able to effectively engage with and understand the personal needs of the people they represent. 

The article was published by Counsel, the official magazine of the Bar of England and Wales, which is read by legal professionals, from law students to senior judges, policy makers, key influencers, and members of the government, as well as having a wider general readership. 

Read the full article on Counsel magazine.  Part 2 is due to be published in November 2022.

Translating collective international climate goals into adequate individual state contributions

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By Marcus Liedtke, member of the Environmental Law and Sustainability Research Group

The recent Glasgow climate conference (COP 26) once again highlighted that the international community falls far short of its ambitious collective goals set out in the Paris Agreement[1] (PA), especially to limit global warming ‘to well below 2°C’[2] and possibly 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.[3]

‘Individuation’ as a central and urgent challenge in international climate change law

A crucial but often neglected question in this regard is how to effectively translate collective international mitigation goals into adequate individual state contributions in order to ensure as far as possible that the collective goal is met.[4] Such a translation – or ‘individuation’[5] – is not only of political but also of legal importance, given that considerable voices[6]  assume that the PA’s long-term temperature goal creates a collective obligation.[7] While 2°C arguably constitute the desired minimum mitigation outcome, the 1.5°C goal forms a mere obligation of conduct.[8] Whether COP 26’s attempts to encourage enhanced immediate collective and individual state action towards closing the emissions gap and limiting global warming ideally even to 1.5°C will prove successful in practice, remains to be seen.[9]

An ‘individuation mechanism’[10] to bridge the gap between individual state ambition and the collective temperature goal should strike a careful balance between competing demands both in terms of practical effectiveness and conceptual design, especially between bottom-up and top-down approaches.[11]

Shortcomings of the Paris Agreement

The PA, recognising different national circumstances, attempts to achieve its long-term objective primarily based on bottom-up nationally determined contributions (NDCs).[12] However, despite some improvements resulting from the supplementary 2018 Paris Rulebook,[13] the current rules are insufficient to incentivise states to closely align state-level ambition with the collective temperature goal.[14] The PA especially contains only vague self-differentiation criteria[15] and does not ensure appropriate comparability, reliability and reflectiveness of NDCs, so that these tend to be self-centred and uncoordinated.[16] The transparency framework[17] and compliance mechanism[18] are unable to compensate these deficits in the bottom-up architecture.[19] The rules governing the global stocktake[20] which is to take place every five years,[21] by contrast, offer some potential to use it as an individuation mechanism.[22] This would, however, only lead to ex-post adjustments of individual state contributions and depend on the political willingness of states.[23]

Previous approaches

While the PA so far falls short of its collective goals in practice,[24] both the Framework Convention (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol (KP) at least partly effectively achieved their key targets.[25] This did, however, not result from a convincing individuation mechanism. On the contrary, the UNFCCC’s predominantly bottom-up approach[26] and the KP’s top-down emission reduction targets[27] – unlike the PA –[28] display a strong bifurcation between developed and developing countries and thus address only a small share of global emissions.[29]

Lessons from the European Union

To resolve its joint contribution under the PA into member state commitments, the European Union (EU) has to conduct a similar exercise to the one required at global level.[30] It relies upon a comprehensive legal framework to ensure adequacy, coherence and achievement of its ambitious collective and member state-level climate goals.[31] As the EU approach – balancing top-down[32] and bottom-up[33] elements of individuation – has enabled it to so far mostly effectively meet its collective targets,[34] it can in many regards inspire an individuation mechanism for the PA. Under the Effort Sharing Regulation, for instance, the collective EU 2030 mitigation target enshrined therein is broken down into individual minimum state contributions.[35] While it is upon EU member states themselves to decide how to achieve these,[36] the regulatory framework also envisages corrective action plans[37] and a critical dialogue with the European Commission on individual mitigation action.[38] Further lessons from the EU include enhanced individuation over time,[39] transparency,[40] depoliticisation of the process,[41] and well-designed flexibilities.[42]

Designing an effective individuation mechanism

A key feature of an effective individuation mechanism for the PA should therefore be a regular constructive dialogue on the consistency of the states’ individual mitigation ambition with the long-term temperature goal and more precise collective interim goals.[43] To this end, a scientific body should determine and publish a fair-share range of individual ambition in line with the collective temperature goal,[44] preferably based on the criteria of mitigation capacities, environmental integrity and intergenerational equity.[45] Another independent body should then regularly assess the adequacy of current individual contributions in that light.[46] Where states wish to deviate from its recommendations, they should publicly state their reasons to facilitate institutional, public and political scrutiny and peer pressure.[47] The constructive dialogue would thereby largely preserve the bottom-up dynamic of the PA, while creating additional top-down incentives for more regular and objective equity reflections.[48] It could thus well complement a strengthened global stocktake.[49]

Furthermore, states still struggling with capacity limitations should be allowed to use limited flexibilities.[50] To encourage also developing countries to make an as ambitious contribution as possible and avoid delaying of mitigation action, these flexibilities should, however, only be available as a last resort.[51] This would especially require that the respective state cannot deliver its full adequate contribution otherwise, even after exhausting available support which developed countries should provide as part of their fair share.[52]

Conclusion

In conclusion, the most promising way to translate collective international mitigation goals into adequate individual state contributions in order to ensure as far as possible that the collective goal is met would be a constructive dialogue between states and an independent body based on suitable equity criteria. Further refinement of the international legal framework thus seems necessary.

This blog post builds upon the author’s LLM dissertation submitted in 2021.[53]


Spotlight: Collaboration is key to boost social mobility

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Guest blog by Karl Brown FRSA, UWE Bristol Law alum and Faculty Advisory Board member.

I am a Commercial Property Partner in the Bristol office of national law firm Clarke Willmott LLP. I am proud to not only be Bristol born and bred but also very proud of my Jamaican heritage. My parents came to the UK in the early 1960s from Jamaica and my dad was a plasterer and my mum was a nurse. The example of my parents gave me a good work ethic but also a desire to make positive change by boosting social mobility and diversity in our professions. I found it very difficult to get a training contract (and ended up making over 100 applications) but through a combination of determination and also mentoring I eventually managed to get a training contract.

My personal experiences mean giving back to young people from less privileged backgrounds is important to me and is why I became a social mobility ambassador for the Law Society in 2016. In my role as a social mobility ambassador, I have given various careers presentations both in-person (pre-pandemic) and also online to show young people from underrepresented backgrounds that they can with the right attitude and work ethic have a career in law.

I firmly believe that it is only through collaboration between the business world and education institutions that we have any chance of reaching out to young people from a range of different backgrounds and inspiring them to try and achieve their desired careers.  This is why I was very proud in 2015 to be a founder member of the Bristol Learning City Partnership Board working alongside headteachers from schools in Bristol to try to formulate policies that work both for schools and also local business. And it is also why in my current role on UWE Bristol’s Faculty of Business and Law Advisory Board I always try and give the perspective of the business world when discussing ideas/proposed policies for the faculty. These roles have also I think made me a better solicitor and business leader as they have increased not only my range of soft skills but my understanding of how the world of business can best attract and develop talent.

Collaboration between businesses within a sector is also key if positive change is to be brought to that sector. I founded the Bristol Property Inclusion Charter (“the Charter”) in 2019 to boost diversity and inclusion in the Bristol property sector. Through research and also through my own networking as a property solicitor, I could see that the Bristol property sector was not as diverse as it could be given the wider diversity in the Bristol population. Another driver in my desire to bring positive change to the property industry was having seen my dad who like many other west Indian immigrants and immigrants from other countries in the past found a skilled trade in the property industry which enabled my dad and others to not only make a positive contribution to the UK economy but also to give a good start in life to their children.

The Charter has seven objectives which in summary include trying to open up opportunities in the Bristol property sector and collaboration to bring transformative change. The running of the Charter is through the Bristol Property Inclusion Commission which I founded in early 2020 and I sit on the commission as Chair alongside representatives from other parts of the property industry. In 2016 the Charter had about fifteen signatory companies/organisations but today we have sixty-six which include YTL, Live West, Bristol City Council, Avison Young, Redrow, Galliard Homes, Grainger plc and Elim Housing.

I would just conclude by making a confession. If you speak to my wife she will tell you that I am an avid follower of the news and in particular love watching CNN. It was watching CNN last year that I saw someone mention an old African proverb and as soon as I heard it I thought I would use it in speeches and articles. The proverb is “If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far go together.” If we work together then I firmly believe we can bring positive change to professions such as law and also to sectors such as property.

The UN Climate Change Conference 2021 in Glasgow – Success or Failure?

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Guest blog by Christina Schroeder, member of the Environmental Law and Sustainability Research Group

The UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) took place from 31 October to 12 November 2021, with more than 120 world leaders and over 40,000 registered participants attending.[1] The target of the conference was to accelerate actions to implement the goals of the Paris Agreement[2] and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.[3]

During COP26, countries reaffirmed the Paris Agreement goal limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees and reaching net-zero around mid-century.[4] This year’s extreme natural events also gave the conference more significance, with impacts of global warming becoming more obvious with floods, heat-waves and fires.[5] Before COP26, many countries updated their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for more climate protection.[6] The European Union, for example, entered these negotiations with several objectives such as cutting emissions, providing climate finance to developing and vulnerable countries with targeting 100 billion dollars per year, but also getting an agreement on the Paris rulebook for fixing transparency and reporting requirements.[7]

Against this background, the decisions taken at COP26 were accordingly viewed critically.

Many hoped for transformation to implement the goals of the Paris Agreement rather than the improvement discussed within COP26.[8] The Climate Conference in Glasgow should not be seen as a failure, but also not as a big success comparable to Paris.[9] Still, some important decisions in the fight against climate change were made. An important political, as well as climate policy decision, was the announcement of a collaboration between China and the US to reduce their emissions.[10] Another important decision was the agreement between more than 100 countries to reduce their methane emissions by 30% until 2030, as well as another agreement concerning the regeneration of forests made by over 100 countries having a total of 90% of the world’s forests together.[11] The global coal to clean energy transition also found big support from more than 40 countries during the negotiations.[12]

Progress can be determined, especially regarding the long-term view with credible delivery plans. Net-Zero target is an important part of this plan. At the last COP in Madrid in 2019, only 16% of the global GDP was covered by Net-Zero target, whilst now around 90% of global emissions are covered by this Net-Zero target with limiting climate warming to 2 degrees within potential reach.[13] Especially the Net-Zero target was supported in Glasgow for long-term efforts.[14] These decisions may be important, but they fell short of the expectations of many, also because many criticisms remained unresolved within COP26.

The final text of the COP26 includes further actions to curb emissions, more frequent updates on progress, and the idea of funding for low- and middle-income countries.[15] Nevertheless, there is a lack of stronger commitments to reduce emissions. The countries only agreed to phase down and not phase out coal[16], which seems disappointing in regard to the Paris Agreement’s goals.

Another point of criticism is the failure to agree on loss and damage finance. This includes supporting low- and middle-income countries with their pathway to decarbonisation, resilience, energy access, and economic growth at the same time.[17] The issue of climate finance is especially crucial for low-income countries being directly exposed to climate change and damages resulting from emissions they did not create.[18] Climate finance is important for helping these countries moving towards clean energy and away from fossil fuels as the cheapest way to keep energy costs down.[19] This means, in particular, that the vulnerable countries have to wait until COP27 where the issue of loss and damage finance should be progressed.[20]

There were less efforts on the short-term view for cutting emissions, although actions taken within the next 10 years are crucial, and an additional focus on near-term emission reduction would have been important too.[21] The NDCs are core to the COP framework and the immediate focus has also to be placed on countries strengthening their 2030 targets as the next few years would be the decisive period to reach the Paris Agreement’s targets.[22]

Apart from the political decision-making level, the climate summit was also very present in the media. Indeed, public awareness is necessary to achieve climate protection; therefore, results achieved during the climate change summit and reactions to it worldwide are important.  China as one of the big polluting countries in the world seemed to have ignored the sense of urgency.[23] In the US, President Biden is now trying to speed up climate change related measures by creating awareness amongst the citizens.[24] Russia still only aims to reach carbon neutrality by 2060, and as a fossil fuel superpower Russia is not willing to cut methane emissions up to 30% by 2030.[25] India as a developing country is taking initiatives to support the reduction in emissions, and also emphasising the urgency of climate change by announcing the goal of reaching Net-Zero by 2070.[26] Brazil’s largest problem contributing to climate change remains the deforestation of its immense rainforest; but the current political regime is not willing to take actions as President Jair Bolsonaro did not even show up to the climate summit.[27]

Following COP26, in addition to the decisions taken, it can be noted that there is still a long way to go to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. Countries are facing different problems starting off with political unwillingness for climate protection, not creating enough awareness amongst their citizens and also local circumstances such as poverty hindering the efforts to curb climate change . Nevertheless, if all the short-term and long-term commitments are implemented, it may still be possible to reach the targets set in Paris Agreement.[28]


[1] United Nations Climate Action, ‘COP26: Together for our planet’ <https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/cop26 > accessed 5 January 2022.

[2] Paris Agreement, 22 April 2016, in force 4 November 2016, C.N.92.2016. Treaties-XXVII.7.d (2015 Paris Agreement).

[3] General Assembly, Report of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio Declaration), Rio de Janeiro 3-14 June 1992, A/CONF.151/26.

[4] United Nations Climate Action (n 1).

[5] Alejandra Borunda in National Geographic, ‘COP26 nears conclusion with mixed signals and frustration’ 12 November 2021 < https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/cop26-conclusion-mixed-signals-and-frustration> accessed 4 January 2022.

[6] Ibid.

[7] European Commission Press Release 13 November 2021 ‘COP26: EU helps deliver outcome to keep the Paris Agreement targets alive’ < https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_6021> accessed 4 January 2022.

[8] Tim Lord, Phil McNally ‘COP26 Review: Glass Half Full?’ 17 November 2021 <https://institute.global/policy/cop26-review-glass-half-full> accessed 5 January 2022.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Acciona ‘Conclusions From COP26: The Challenge of Doing Away With Coal’ <https://www.activesustainability.com/climate-change/cop26-conclusions/?_adin=02021864894> accessed 4 January 2022.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Tim Lord, Phil McNally ‘COP26 Review: Glass Half Full? (n 8).

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ehsan Masood, Jeff Tollefson ‘COP26 hasn’t solved the problem: scientists react to UN climate deal’ 15 November 2021 < https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-03431-4> accessed 4 January 2022.

[16] Acciona ‘Conclusions From COP26: The Challenge of Doing Away With Coal’ (n 10).

[17] Tim Lord, Phil McNally ‘COP26 Review: Glass Half Full? (n 8).

[18] Ehsan Masood, Jeff Tollefson ‘COP26 hasn’t solved the problem: scientists react to UN climate deal’ (n 15).

[19] Ibid.

[20] Tim Lord, Phil McNally ‘COP26 Review: Glass Half Full? (n 8).

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] BBC ‘COP 26: How the world is reacting to the climate summit’ 06 November 2021 <https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-59036722> accessed 5 January 2022.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Alejandra Borunda in National Geographic, ‘COP26 nears conclusion with mixed signals and frustration’ (n 5).

Stifling Access to Sanitation through Privatisation of Public Facilities in Ghana: The Cases of Human Rights and Dignity

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Blog by Dr. Felix Nana Kofi Ofori, REACT Humanitarian Network, Oxford, UK. Former PhD student, Bristol Law School, UWE Bristol.

Human well-being, now and in the future, depends on a healthy environment characterised by access to safe sanitation in society. [1] This blog examines the challenges confronting majority of Ghanaians whose access to sanitation, is hindered by privatisation and limited provision of public facilities; and where these are available, they are exorbitantly expensive thereby stifling and violating the dignity and human rights of the people. [2]

Access to sanitation as a right, evokes controversies in international human rights jurisprudence compared to the conventional rights. However, it is no secret within the Ghanaian society, that majority of the citizenry in cities, regional centres, including the remotest communities of the country, lack access to sanitation. [3] Fundamentally, lack of access to sanitation is a violation of the human rights and dignity of Ghanaians; as enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), [4] as adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), in 2010).[5] However, under Ghana’s liberalisation and privatisation agenda, which was promoted by the IMF/World Bank[6], majority of public toilet/latrine facilities in the country were privatised with a view  to enhance the efficient management and provision of services for the people. Furthermore, since all human rights are interdependent there is little doubt that access to sanitation is critical to achieving human dignity which is at the fore-front of protecting human health.[6a] [6b]

As society evolves so the ambit of rights grow to protect and promote the welfare and dignity of peoples globally, and particularly in this context, Ghana. Sanitation is crucially one area in which the dignity of most Ghanaians is violated because of the failure of successive governments to establish facilities to protect this right. [7] In its preamble, the United Nations Charter provides that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. [8] Thus, there can be no realisation of human rights without respect for human dignity; therefore, sanitation should be given critical priority by the government in allocating budgetary and physical resources to ensure that Ghanaians gain access to effective sanitation services. The duty to establish sanitation and hygiene facilities in Ghana as other countries, spans three obligations- availability, accessibility and affordability. [9] 

First, availability means that the government establishes public sanitation facilities within reasonable distance of the people’s reach; whilst, ensuring that poorer communities are not denied access to sanitation for want of paying. [10] Second, accessibility, is defined by the WHO-UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme and Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene, as a standard 30 minutes time for someone to go to and return from a sanitation facility. [11] Also, it is the responsibility of the government and local authorities to ensure that children and persons with disabilities coupled with the location of the sanitation facilities do not impede access to such services. Third, affordability, as a human rights criterion, requires that “access to sanitation facilities and services be made reasonably affordable to all peoples, especially in the poorer part of cities and deprived communities of a county”. [12] Whilst the UNDP sets a threshold of 3 per cent, that by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is 4 per cent and that by the Asian Development Bank is 5 per cent respectively. [13] Despite the above established thresholds, the government and public agencies responsible for sanitation services in Ghana, continue to violate the right to sanitation; by failing, to adopt creative strategies to ameliorate any hardships pricing mechanisms impose on the people regarding access to sanitation services.

Strategically, the World Bank plays vital roles in the development of nations, especially Ghana, by offering financial and policy directions to help them improve their socio-economic services of which sanitation constitutes an integral part. Privatisation of water and sanitation services is one area in which the World Bank’s strategic guidance had created mixed consequences in Ghana. The World Bank opines that private participation in the sanitation services is beneficial to the state and its people because it introduces efficient and judicious management of services; and it secures the requisite funding to repair and maintain old infrastructures. [14] Conversely, larger parts of communities in cities and town throughout Ghana practise open defecation due to limited or non-availability of sanitation facilities. [15] The majority view is that privatisation not only stifles access to sanitation in further violation of the people’s dignity, but also breaches established obligations of governments to protect access to sanitation, as enshrined in International human rights law. [16] This resonates with the premise that economic and political expediencies coupled with national policies cannot be deployed by the government and its agencies to commit blatant illegalities concerning the implementation of privatisation agenda.

Primarily, the right to sanitation is considered as a private responsibility enjoining the individual to build his/her own latrine or pay to connect to the sewerage system; however, where individuals cannot afford to pay for this responsibility, the state has to bear this duty in two respects. First, the State should adopt the necessary measures such as tariff schemes or subsidies to ensure that services are affordable; and second, implement practical framework and enabling environment to guarantee access to sanitation. [17]

Copious evidence suggest that privatisation stifles access to sanitation which in turn undermines the human rights and dignity of Ghanaians, especially those in poorer communities, who lack the financial backing to either build or pay for sanitation services. The right to sanitation is an enshrined human right obligation of governments in the international community, including Ghana, requiring that access is protected and promoted without citing arguments of economic, social or political expediencies. Although Ghana has finite resources like other states, it is obliged to allocate portion of its budgetary resources to ensure that access to sanitation and hygiene facilities are progressively realised in accordance with international and constitutional mandates. Similarly, the duty to protect access to sanitation extends to supervising the implementation of privatisation contracts without compromising the dignity and human rights of Ghanaians.

References

[1] <www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/WaterAndSanitation/SR/Water/Pages/Progressiverealization.aspx. >Accessed December 13, 2021.

[2]Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (General Assembly Resolution 70/1, para. 5).

[3] UNICEF Ghana: “Water, Sanitation and Hygiene” < https://www.unicef.org/Ghana/Water-Saniation-and-Hygiene> Accessed December 14, 2021.  

[4] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (1966) UNTS, Art. 2 (1)

[5] Special Rapporteur on Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, Caterina de Albuguerque, Report, Mission to Egypt, 50, UN. Doc.A/HRC/15/31/Add.3 (Jul. 5, 2010).

[6a] Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969),  Adopted May 23, 1969, entered into force on January 27, 1980, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1155,p 331.

[6b] The World Bank-FAQ-World Bank Group Support for Water and Sanitation Solutions<https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/water/brief/working-with-private-sectors-to-increase-water-sanitation-access > Accessed December 14, 2021.

[7] Gould, C. and Brown, C. Sanitation Challenge for Ghana Dignified City Award (Stage 2), May 2020, IMC Worldwide.

[8] The Charter of the United Nations and the Statute of the International Court of Justice, UN, New York (1997) 3.

[9] A/HRC/45/10, “Progressive Realization of the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation” Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, September 14- October 2, 2020.

[10] A/HRC/45/10, Ibid. see note 9, para. 35

[11) Ibid. see note 9, para. 37

[12] Ibid. see note 9, para. 39

[13] A/HRC/30/39, Report of the Special Rapporteur  on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation: Addendum, para. 25.

[14] The World Bank –FAQ – World Bank Group Support for Water and Sanitation Solutions < https://www.worldbank.org/en/topics/water/brief/working-with-private-sectors-to-increase-water-sanitation-access-> Accessed December 14, 2021.

[15] The World Bank, Ibid.

[16] Winkler, T.I., The Human Right to Sanitation (2016), University of Pennsylvania Journal of International, Vol.37 (4) 1331-1406.

[17] Eide, A., Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as Human Rights in Economic, Social and Cultural Rights- Textbook, 9, 24 (Asbjorn Eide, Catarina Krause and Allan Rosas eds, 2nd ed., 2001)

Alumni spotlight: Choo Dee Wei

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Guest blog by LLB alumni, Choo Dee Wei.

I commenced the LLB (Hons) degree with HELP in 2001. It was a twinning-programme with UWE Bristol. My final year i.e. my 3rd year was in UWE itself. This was in 2003. Thereafter I undertook the Bar Vocational Course and was called to the Bar of England & Wales in 2005. I was admitted as an advocate & solicitor of the High Court in Malaya in 2007.

I wouldn’t trade my learning experience for anything in the world. UWE has provided lessons both in real life and in a classroom setting.

Without it, it is doubtful that I would be where I am today.

These lessons have brought me to this moment in time. Over a decade in practice and now managing and running my own firm comprising associates, pupils, staff, paralegals and interns. That aside, it remains important and vital to continue to develop and nurture young students to become great practitioners. Hence being involved in numerous events and sessions of such nature.

Choo Dee Wei
Present: Principal of Messrs. Choo Dee Wei
Graduated: LLB(Hons) 2003, UWE BVC 2005

The role of judiciary in climate change litigation – the rise of a promising opportunity to combat climate change

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By Christina Schroeder, LLM Student, Member of Environmental Law and Sustainability Research Group.

Climate change and how to combat it is an omnipresent issue. Whereas in the past climate change and its consequences were talked down, they are now seen as the “biggest threat modern humans have ever faced”[1] and referred to as a “crisis multiplier”[2] with the need to act in time, requiring global cooperation.[3]

The previous attempt to achieve climate protection at the political level by means of the Paris Agreement[4] can be considered a failure due to the lack of implementation[5] by the states.

This is where the consideration comes into play as to whether court rulings offer a possibility to effectively combat climate change. Climate change litigation is also increasing due to the influence of many young people who are campaigning for more climate protection with the help of the courts or by organising global climate strikes.[6]

There are several reasons why courts can provide an opportunity to effectively combat climate change through their judgments. In contrast to climate agreements as for example the Paris Agreement, courts take a clear line. Cases have to be decided and thus a clear result has to be reached; while political leaders so far have failed to implement measures to reach targets of the Paris Agreement.[7] Courts are also suited to their function of enforcing decisions promoting more climate protection. In the context of climate change litigation, judicial lawmaking is also becoming increasingly important. Courts decide whether existing laws need to be reinterpreted or amended when they are deemed unfair in their application to specific cases.[8]

Judicial successes in effectively combating climate change can be seen in several landmark rulings, especially in strategic cases[9] where courts make decisions by ordering the improvement or revision of current laws,[10] as in the cases of Friends of the Irish Environment v Ireland[11] and Neubauer et al. v Germany.[12]  For example, in the case of Friends of the Irish Environment v Ireland[13] the Supreme Court of Ireland quashed the National Mitigation Plan, as the court found that the plan was not detailed enough to effectively reach the goals within Ireland’s 2015 Climate Act.[14] The court also argued that especially for a normal citizen, the plan was not sufficiently specific enough relating to what actions would be taken until 2050 to give effect to the 2015 Climate Act of Ireland.[15] In this respect, the decision of the Supreme Court of Ireland has set the course for the fight against climate change but has so far contributed little to it due to a lack of political implementation of a new Mitigation Plan.

Recently in 2021, the German Federal Constitutional Court decided that the Federal Climate Change Act[16] does not sufficiently protect the future generations from the impacts of climate change.[17] The Court also found a duty of the German government to actively protect life and health of its citizens.[18] After the ruling in Germany, the German government initiated an amendment of the Climate Protection Act in a record time.[19] Under the amended Climate Protection Act by the German government from 24 June 2021, the climate protection targets have been tightened and now aim for Germany to become greenhouse gas neutral by 2045 which is five years earlier compared to the previous target in 2019 and also ahead of the EU’s target date.

Some court cases are also aiming to put pressure on the legislator to do more for climate protection. This can be seen in the cases of the Dutch Supreme Court deciding the case of Urgenda Foundation v. State of the Netherlands[20] in 2019 which identified a legal duty of the government to prevent and combat climate change more actively;[21] and the Colombian Supreme Court ruling in 2018 in favor of 25 children in Colombia who sued the Colombian Government for failing to prevent deforestation and therefore not taking actions against climate change.[22]

In Urgenda case, the Dutch Supreme Court invoked the government’s human rights obligations. In order for these to be fulfilled, the court orientated itself on a proposed common ground, which is the targeted reduction of greenhouse gases.[23] This ruling in particular is seen as very successful due to its transferability to other European countries and has already given rise to similar climate lawsuits.[24]

In the Demanda Generaciones Futuras case, the Colombian Supreme Court ordered the government to develop a plan for environmental protection of the Amazon, and at the same time declared the Amazon as an entity with own rights to be protected from destruction. Despite this important ruling, the government has not been able to adequately protect the Amazon.[25] This is not due to the ruling of the Colombian Supreme Court itself, which aimed for comprehensive protection, but solely to the lack of initiatives and measures adopted by the political leaders. Indeed, the approach of using the ‘Rights of Nature’ to protect nature is problematic in this respect, as nature is dependent on human representation. This can work well, as in New Zealand, where the Whanganui River[26] is represented by indigenous people. In contrast, the consideration of granting rights to the Great Barrier Reef remains a concern due to a lack of representation.[27]

The cases above show that courts can be an effective way to combat climate change.

In the context of behavioral effectiveness, the courts are moderately successful, as these decisions cannot directly influence people and their behavior, but they can indirectly influence people’s behavior by stimulating social debate and media attention.[28] In addition, courts can exert direct influence on legislators through their rulings.[29] This is also done while preserving the separation of powers, since despite judicial lawmaking, courts do not become politically active. Thus, the judiciary’s role to solve problems remains complicated. This is due to the fact that the separation of powers and the role of the courts require both political and social components in order to effectively implement a decision.[30] Courts cannot fight climate change on their own, but they can positively promote it.


[1] United Nations Security Council, Press Release SC/14445 ‘Climate Change ‘Biggest Threat Modern Humans Have Ever Faced’, World-Renowned Naturalist Tells Security Council, Calls for Greater Global Cooperation’ 23 February 2021 <https://www.un.org/press/en/2021/sc14445.doc.htm> accessed 14 June 2021.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Paris Agreement, 22 April 2016, in force 4 November 2016, C.N.92.2016. Treaties-XXVII.7.d (2015 Paris Agreement).

[5] Sandrine Maljean-Dubois, ‘Climate Change Litigation’ Max Planck Encyclopedia of Procedural Law (2019) <https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-02281274/document> No.4 accessed 24 August 2021.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Sandrine Maljean-Dubois, ‘Climate Change Litigation’ (n 5) No.4.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Orla Kelleher, ‘The Supreme Court of Ireland’s Decision in Friends of the Irish Environment v Government of Ireland (“Climate Case Ireland”)’ (EJIL, 9 September 2020) <https://www.ejiltalk.org/the-supreme-court-of-irelands-decision-in-friends-of-the-irish-environment-v-government-of-ireland-climate-case-ireland/> accessed 9 July 2021.

[10] Joana Setzer, Catherine Higham, ‘Global Trends in Climate Change Litigation: 2021 Snapshot’ (Policy Report July 2021) <https://www.lse.ac.uk/granthaminstitute/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Global-trends-in-climate-change-litigation_2021-snapshot.pdf> 12, accessed 9 July 2021.

[11] Friends of the Irish Environment CLG v The Government of Ireland, Ireland and the Attorney General (2019) IEHC 747.

[12] Neubauer et al. v Germany, Court order of 24 March 2021, 1 BvR 2656/10.

[13] Friends of the Irish Environment CLG v The Government of Ireland, Ireland and the Attorney General (2019) IEHC 747.

[14] Climate Action and low Carbon Development Act 2015, 46/2015, into force on 10 December 2015.

[15] Mary Carolan, ‘Supreme Court Quashes Government’s Plan to Reduce Greenhouse Gases’ (The Irish Times, 31 July 2020) <https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/courts/supreme-court/supreme-court-quashes-government-s-plan-to-reduce-greenhouse-gases-1.4318578> accessed 10 July 2021.

[16] Climate Protection Act Germany (Klimaschutzgesetz), into force on 12 December 2019, amended on 24 June 2021.

[17] Ralf Bodle, Stephan Sina, ‘The German Federal Constitutional Court’s Decision on the Climate Change Act’ (Ecological Institute Berlin, 2021) <https://www.ecologic.eu/18104#:~:text=In%20a%20decision%20published%20in,by%20the%20end%20of%202022> accessed 10 July 2021.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Alice Boldis, Christian Lütkehaus, ‘How a Court Ruling Changed Germany’s Climate Protection Act’ (Pinsent Masons, 20 July 2021) <https://www.pinsentmasons.com/out-law/analysis/court-ruling-germany-climate-protection-act> accessed 2 August 2021.

[20] Urgenda Foundation v The State of the Netherlands (20 December 2019) 19/00135.

[21] Urgenda, ‘Landmark Decision by Dutch Supreme Court’ (Urgenda.nl, 2020) <https://www.urgenda.nl/en/themas/climate-case/> accessed 5 August 2021.

[22] Demanda Generaciones Futuras v Minambiente, Colombian Supreme Court (5 April 2018) STC 4360-2018.

[23] Laura Burgers, André Nollkaemper, ‘A New Classic in Climate Change Litigation: The Dutch Supreme Court Decision in the Urgenda Case’ (EJIL, 6 January 2020) < https://www.ejiltalk.org/a-new-classic-in-climate-change-litigation-the-dutch-supreme-court-decision-in-the-urgenda-case/> accessed 8 August 2021.

[24] Anke Wonneberger, Rens Vliegenthart ‘Agenda-Setting Effects of Climate Change Litigation: Interrelations Across Issue Levels, Media, and Politics in the Case of Urgenda Against the Dutch Government’ (n 45) 699.

[25] Alex Guillau, ‘The Colombian Government has Failed to Fulfil the Supreme Court’s Landmark Order to Protect the Amazon’ (Dejusticia, 5 April 2019) < https://www.dejusticia.org/en/the-colombian-government-has-failed-to-fulfill-the-supreme-courts-landmark-order-to-protect-the-amazon/> accessed 25 August 2021.

[26] New Zealand, Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017 / Rapid Transition Alliance, ‘The Rise of the Rights of Nature’ (Rapid Transition, 11 March 2019) <https://www.rapidtransition.org/stories/the-rise-of-the-rights-of-nature/> accessed 16 August 2021.

[27] Randall S. Abate, Climate Change and the Voiceless (Cambridge University Press 2019) 161.

[28] Anke Wonneberger, Rens Vliegenthart, ‘Agenda-Setting Effects of Climate Change Litigation: Interrelations Across Issue Levels, Media, and Politics in the Case of Urgenda Against the Dutch Government’ (2021) 15 Environmental Communication 699.

[29] Jaqueline Peel, Hari M. Osofsky, ‘Clime Change Litigation’ (2020) Annu. Rev. Law. Soc. Sci.33.

[30] Luke Elborough, ‘International Climate Change Litigation: Limitations and Possibilities for International Adjudication and Arbitration in Addressing the Challenge of Climate Change’ (2017) 21 NZ J Envtl L 125.

Climate Change Litigation – A Vehicle for Changing Corporation and State Behaviour?

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By Johanna Reichel, Second Year, LL.B. Programme.

With only nine years left until climate change becomes irreversible,[1] stopping or slowing it down becomes increasingly crucial every day. One judicial instrument among others to combat climate change is climate change litigation which is gradually perceived to change climate-related policy outcomes and corporate behaviour.

The most prominent case when talking about climate change litigation is Urgenda.[2]In this case, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled in favour of 900 citizens assisted by the Urgenda Foundation and ordered the government to reduce greenhouse gas emission (GHG) by at least 25% by the end of 2020.[3] This “show horse” of climate change litigation is an almost perfect example of invoking human rights to force States to act ‘greener’.

Climate change litigation cases, especially ones relying on human rights, are increasing.[4] When the defendant is the respective government, the claimants can rely on human rights. Especially the right to life[5] and the right to effective remedies[6] have been used more often strategically and successfully by NGO’s and individuals.

Urgenda paved the way for other individuals, such as Ashgar Leghari, a farmer in Pakistan, to hold their governments accountable via litigation. Mr Leghari challenged the Pakistani government for its failure to carry out core provisions of the National Climate Change Policy of 2012. He succeeded and the government was ordered to implement a climate adaption plan.[7]

In 2018, Colombia’s Supreme Court ordered the authorities to implement action plans to address deforestation in the Amazon,[8] another major cause of climate change. As the ‘lung of the world’, the Amazon Forest stores large amounts of carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and thereby increasing the world’s temperature.[9]

As demonstrated, climate change litigation is a tool to influence climate change law and policy. Nevertheless, as corporations are responsible for over 71% of global emissions,[10] holding them accountable is essential to stop climate change. However, as the provisions in the Human Right Charters are only addressed to public bodies, corporations cannot be held liable under them.[11] After failed attempts in the early 2000s,[12] the second wave of litigation rose with cases such as Huaraz Case[13] where Saúl Luciano Lliuya, a Peruvian farmer, is suing the German multinational energy company RWE in Germany to hold them accountable for their impact on climate change. He is basing his claim on the German Code of Civil procedure, yet the outcome must be awaited as SARS COVID-19 delayed the process.[14]

The precedent for climate change litigation against corporations was recently set in Milieudefensie v Shell.[15] In May 2021, Shell was ordered to cut their GHG by 2030 by 45%.[16] Relying on the Urgenda precedent and the fact that Shell’s GHG was twice as high as the Netherland’s, the court permitted the claim under the European Convention on Human Rights.[17]

Despite the fact that courts do not always rule in favour of the environment, corporations can be influenced to act ‘greener’ due to media coverage. ExxonMobile, for example, misled the public about climate change’s potential business risks to rationalize their behaviour by funding climate change denial front groups and spreading disinformation about climate science.[18] Despite winning the case, the subsequent public and financial scrutiny damaged their reputation, and their credit rating was downgraded.[19] In conclusion, climate change litigation is accurately seen as a tool to influence climate change policies and corporate behaviour. However, cases such as Urgenda and Milieudefensie, while demonstrating an ideal outcome, are rare and must be built upon. Milieudefensie, in particular, needs to be further observed as Shell will undoubtedly appeal the decision. Nevertheless, even unsuccessful cases can drive climate change action long term as public awareness is raised through media attention and a broad public discussion is forced.


[1] General Assembly, Only 11 Years Left to Prevent Irreversible Damage from Climate Change, Speakers Warn during General Assembly High-Level Meeting (28 March 2019) < https://www.un.org/press/en/2019/ga12131.doc.htm> accessed 18 May 2021

[2] Supreme Court of the Netherlands, 20 December 2019, ECLI:NL:HR:2019:2007, English translation ECLI:NL:2019:2007

[3]’Climate Case – Urgenda’ (Urgenda, 2019) <https://www.urgenda.nl/en/themas/climate-case/> accessed 18 May 2021;  Supreme Court of the Netherlands, 20 December 2019, ECLI:NL:HR:2019:2007, English translation ECLI:NL:2019:2007

[4] Elisa de Wit, Sonali Seneviratne and Huw Calford, ‘Climate Change Litigation Update’ (Nortonrosefulbright.com, 2020) <https://nortonrosefulbright.com/en/knowledge/publications/7d58ae66/climate-change-litigation-update> accessed 24 May 2021

[5] Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1848, art. 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, art. 6

[6] Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1848, art. 8; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, art. 2(3)

[7] Asghar Leghari v Federation of Pakistan (2015) W.P. No 25501/201

[8] Demanda Generaciones Futuras v. Minambiente 11001-22-03-000-2018-00319-01, para 3.

[9] Ross W. Gorte and Pervaze A. Sheikh ‘Deforestation and Climate Change’ (Congressional Research Service, 2010) < http://forestindustries.eu/sites/default/files/userfiles/1file/R41144.pdf> accessed 2 July 2021

[10] Tess Riley, ‘Just 100 Companies Responsible For 71% Of Global Emissions, Study Says’ (the Guardian, 2017) <https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jul/10/100-fossil-fuel-companies-investors-responsible-71-global-emissions-cdp-study-climate-change> accessed 18 May 2021

[11] European Commission, ‘How to report a breach of your rights’ https://ec.europa.eu/info/aid-development-cooperation-fundamental-rights/your-rights-eu/how-report-breach-your-rights_en accessed 26 May 2021

[12] Michal Nachmany and Joana Setzer, ‘Global trends in climate change legislation and litigation: 2018 snapshot’ (2018) Graham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment < https://www.lse.ac.uk/granthaminstitute/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Global-trends-in-climate-change-legislation-and-litigation-2018-snapshot-3.pdf> accessed 24 May 2021

[13] Agence France-Presse, ‘Peruvian farmer sues German energy giant for contributing to climate change’ The Guardian (14 November 2017) < https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/14/peruvian-farmer-sues-german-energy-giant-rwe-climate-change> accessed 24 May 2021

[14] Luciano Lliuya v. RWE AG Case No. 2 O 285/15 Essen Regional Court

[15] The Hague District Court, 26 May 2021, ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2021:5337, English translation ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2021:5339

[16] Roger Harrabin ‘Shell: Netherlands court orders oil giant to cut emissions’ BBC News (26 May 2021) < https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-57257982> accessed 26 May 2021

[17] Milieudefensie v Shell [2019] District Court of The Hague < http://blogs2.law.columbia.edu/climate-change-litigation/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/non-us-case-documents/2019/20190405_8918_summons.pdf> accessed 26 May 2021

[18] Suzanne Goldenberg ‘ExxonMobil under investigation over claims it lied about climate change risks’ The Guardian (New York, 5.11.2015) <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/nov/05/exxonmobil-investigation-climate-change-peabody> accessed 8 July 2021

[19] Megan Darby, ‘Shareholder Pressure Mounts On Downgraded Exxonmobil’ (the Guardian, 2016) <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/28/shareholders-pressure-mounts-on-downgraded-exxonmobil-climate-change> accessed 25 May 2021

Outstanding Student Representative of the Year

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Congratulations to LLB (Hons) Law student, Danielle Newton, for receiving the title of ‘Outstanding Rep of the Year’ for the Business and Law faculty. We caught up with Danielle about her journey as part of our Student Spotlight 2021.

Why did you want to become a student rep?

“My initial interest came after my first year at the university. Once my confidence grew, I wanted to be a voice for those who went unnoticed, the students who find it difficult to say how they feel and bring to light any issues they are having. I have been that type of student for years and I know exactly how it feels. I knew during a pandemic that the student representative programme could be the perfect asset for getting to know peers and staff alike. I felt the need to still maintain that contact irrespective of all the restrictions we were facing in the world. My hope was to make certain that my faculty’s year felt like a community!

Overall, Student representatives are of significant importance in encompassing the idea of acting on behalf of one body to promote change and success for all.”

What have you gained as a student rep?

“I have developed exceptional communication skills through volunteering as a student representative. The role itself relies on gaining feedback from peers to better establish a reliable working environment. Thus, I actively communicate with staff members and students to be a voice of reason and representation. All of this has been a great topic for conversation in recent interviews.

The most thoroughly rewarding part of the role was being able to make change for my cohort. Whether that be a deadline change, timetable change, teaching addition etc. Any small amount of change would bring with it great satisfaction. Alongside this, the programme gave me the opportunity to speak to various people. I have made many friends despite the virtual restrictions consequently adding to my university experience as a whole.”

What were the challenges you faced over the past year?

“It comes as no surprise that it has been an unprecedented year and with that came many challenges both in and out of university. I found adapting to virtual life hard. Communicating with lots of people in my role but never seeing faces was very strange! I recently came onto campus and have spotted a few of my lecturers who probably wouldn’t know who I am.

The main challenges lied with the shift in academic year dates. This change in schedule was difficult for students to adapt too – myself included. However, it has all been a learning curve and all the students and staff have worked exceptionally hard to try and get the most out of the academic year.”

What have you learnt?

“Foremost what I have learnt from my university experience is the power afforded to those who try hard and persevere to succeed. It may seem a silly concept but, what breaks away from those students who are academically gifted and those who try hard is that university doesn’t discriminate. One of my favourite quotes that I would think about when I competed in Athletics was “all men are created equal, some work harder in pre-season.” This concept is similar for university and you will be recognised for your efforts.

I felt like a slow burner here. I wasn’t academically gifted and I was so shy when walking onto campus for the first time. I had convinced myself I would drop out in the first 5 minutes. But I kept going and once I was ready, I was able to make the most out of my university experience. My advice would be, seize every opportunity given to you, don’t take life too seriously, enjoy the small things and most of all remember – fast success builds your ego but, slow success builds your character.”

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