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ILA in Madrid for the UNFCCC COP 25


On Friday 6 December 2019, on Spain’s historic National Constitution Day (Día de la Constitución), over 300 participants from across the world gathered at the Faculty of Law at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid for the 5th annual Climate Law & Governance Day (CLGD) symposium alongside the UNFCCC COP25, marking the event the biggest since the inaugural CLGD in Paris alongside COP21 in 2015. The event, accredited by the COP25 Presidency, was led by the Climate Law & Governance Initiative (CLGI) consortium of over 120 partners, and hosted by leading climate law experts from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, the University of Chile, the University of Cambridge, the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law (CISDL) and International Law Association – Canada (ILA).


Across a full day of 14 intensive expert panel and roundtable sessions and high-level plenaries, judges, legal practitioners, academics, university deans, researchers, students and professors shared knowledge and charted key trends and insights on strengthening legal foundations for climate ambition and compliance, with a focus on legal innovations and solutions in three key areas:

  • Advancing Paris Agreement Innovations – New Rules for Transparency, Markets & Non-Market Instruments, Finance, Loss & Damage, Compliance & Safeguards;

  • Scaling-up National & Regional Climate Legal Frameworks for Action – Effective Climate Governance, Ecosystems-Based & Human Rights Responses, Human Mobility & Climate Justice Litigation;

  • Local & Global Interlinkages & Engagement – Climate Change in Regimes on Oceans, Biodiversity, Ozone, Civil Aviation, Trade, Investment, Peace & Security.

The Day culminated in two high-level plenaries, focusing on advancing Paris Agreement implementation through legal practice and negotiation, and enhancing climate change responses through legal research and teaching. Prof Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger, ILA Board Member, Full Professor of Law at the University of Waterloo, and Leverhulme Visiting Professor (designate) at the University of Cambridge where she is a Law Fellow of Lucy Cavendish College, emphasized the potential contributions of law and governance innovation implement Paris Agreement objectives: ‘Climate change is the justice challenge of our time. To hold warming within 1.5 degrees worldwide calls for scaled-up ambition and action, across all professions and sectors of our economy and our society, right now.’


The day concluded with a reception and the first-ever Climate Law and Governance Global Leadership Awards 2019. The top honours were received by Ms. Marie-Anne Birken, General Counsel at EBRD for her leadership as a general counsel, Dr. Ilona Millar, Senior Partner at Baker McKenzie and Dr. Wendy Miles, QC, Partner at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP and Vice President of the International Chamber of Commerce Court of Arbitration for their leadership as professionals; and HE Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, Chair of the Coalition of Rainforest Nations & Representative, Democratic Republic of Congo, for his leadership as a climate negotiator over the years. Adv. Magdalena Stryja of the University of Silesia in Katowice, Head of Science and Development Committee of the Katowice Bar Association and Legal Fellow at CISDL, and Prof. Tomasz Pietrzykowski, Professor and Vice-Rector for Domestic & International Cooperation at the University of Silesia won the prize for the top law faculty and university.


In a special briefing on 10 December 2019 at the UNFCCC Pavilion, outcomes and findings from CLGD 2019 were shared with members of COP25 delegations, with welcoming remarks provided by Ms. Hafida Lahouiel, Head of the UNFCCC Secretariat Legal Office. In his opening comments, Dr. Douglas Leys, General Counsel at the Green Climate Fund, emphasized that ‘as the fight against climate change intensifies so is the need to have more lawyers trained in this field to prepare for the next frontier in the fight against climate change, which is climate justice’. Providing insights on the need for implementing the compliance provisions under the Paris Agreement, Prof. Christina Voigt, Professor at The University of Oslo and Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law Climate Change Specialist Group, noted that ‘implementation and compliance with the core provisions is crucial for the effectiveness of the Paris Agreement. The importance of legal reform cannot be understated: over 160 of 188 countries stressed plans for legal and institutional reform in their intended Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) when they ratified the Paris Agreement. It is crucial for maintaining trust in each other and in the agreement - and eventually for increasing ambition over time. At the same time, national climate laws render the (non-binding) targets in Parties’ NDC into binding and enforceable law. We need both, compliance with international and national legal obligations to address the climate challenge. Law is the most important tool for translating science and policy into action’.


In highlighting the need for law to advance climate adaptation measures, Adv. Ayman Cherkaoui, CISDL Lead Counsel CISDL and Coordinator of the Mohammed VI Foundation for Environmental Protection, highlighted the role of law in enabling climate adaptation: ‘Law has a key role to play both in terms of implementing the current NDCs as well as unlocking, for 2020, areas of enhancement and ambition aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda, both for mitigation and adaptation. When it comes specifically to adaptation, coherence and cohesion in legal frameworks at the local, national, regional and international levels are of paramount importance for the national adaptation plans and to leave no one behind, in particular the most vulnerable’.

Dr. Siobhan McDonnell, Lecturer, and Australian National University and Drafting Negotiator for the Government of Vanuatu, reflected on the opportunities provided by litigation for addressing the climate crisis, commenting that ‘beyond UNFCCC litigation provides an additional pathway for Pacific Island leaders, who are increasingly concerned by the impacts of climate change’. Dr. Wendy Miles provided key insights on interfaces between investment law and the international climate regime, underscoring the importance of private climate finance, and the role of lawyers in facilitating the low-carbon transition: ‘Lawyers are able to utilize existing legal instruments to mobilize private finance for transition. Investors seek certainty; they need to be able to assess and manage legal risk. Paris Agreement member states are gradually implementing the legal, regulatory and policy frameworks necessary for transition. Existing private international and investment laws enhance risk management pending implementation of new domestic frameworks. Existing instruments include soundly drafted contracts with suitable international dispute resolutions provisions providing for international commercial arbitration and bilateral and multilateral investment treaties with international settlement of investment disputes.


Despite advancements in these areas, there remains much work to be done: Dr. Markus Gehring, who directs law at Hughes Hall in the University of Cambridge and serves on the ILA Committee on International Law on Natural Resources, called for improved legal research and teaching to advance future global responses to climate change: ‘As academics, we need to prepare the next generation of professionals, professors and researchers to tackle the immense challenges of climate change, across all fields, and explore the intersections of all areas of law with climate change.’



Prof Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger, ILA Board Member, at the UNFCCC COP25 in Madrid.

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