On Wednesday 28 October 2020, a diverse audience of government and private sector legal advisers, international law practitioners and academics virtually attended the annual Freshfields Public International Law Seminar.
The focus of this year’s seminar was: ‘The role of international law in addressing climate change: where next?’ Partner Will Thomas chaired a panel comprised of Rueanna Haynes (Senior Legal Adviser, Climate Analytics and a former representative of Trinidad and Tobago at the UNFCCC), Professor Philippe Sands QC (Matrix Chambers) and Chloe Sanders (Director, ESG & Legal at CVC).
In a thought-provoking discussion, the panel tested the ability of the existing treaty regime and customary international law to effect real progress in the fight against global warming, while also exploring the role of international courts and litigation in advancing the climate change agenda, and the importance of engagement with non-state actors.
Will Thomas began by asking the panel whether the current treaty regime was “fit for purpose”. Rueanna Haynes explained the evolution of the treaty regime, making clear that while common commitments in treaties such as the Paris Agreement were key to real action on climate change, there remains an expectation that developed countries will “take the lead” to advance the overall goals of the UNFCCC. Philippe Sands QC opined that “after nearly 35 years of talking shop it is clear that [the existing treaty regime] is manifestly inadequate”, suggesting instead that far stronger sticks and carrots are needed to concentrate minds effectively. Bringing a private-sector perspective to the discussion, especially as regards implementation, Chloe Sanders described how “strong engagement with the private sector will be key to the overall task”, noting that transparency of reporting and, in particular, the guidance from the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures “is very much at the forefront of minds in business”.
These issues and more were explored from a broad range of perspectives. Panel members and the audience showed a particular interest in advancing methods for the resolution of disputes concerning climate change issues, as well as probing those areas where international law is yet to grapple effectively with climate change – such as trade law, refugee law and State sovereignty / maritime delimitation in the face of rising sea levels.
The Freshfields Public International Law Seminar is held every year as a side event of the Sixth Committee (Legal) of the United Nations General Assembly. To learn more about our public international law practice, please click here.