IUCN WCEL hosted the webinar “Advisory Opinions on Climate Change: initiatives, expectations and possibilities”
On Wednesday 25 January 2023, the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL) organized this online event as part of its Webinar Series: "The Transforming Power of Law: Addressing Global Environmental Challenges". The webinar had more had 900 registrants and counted with the involvement of three of IUCN WCEL's Specialist Groups (SGs): the Climate Change Law SG, the Ocean Law SG and the Early Career SG. Additionally, members of the WCEL Steering Committee also joined as speakers and it was moderated by WCEL Deputy Chair Ayman Cherkaoui.
The webinar’s opening remarks were given by IUCN WCEL Chair Prof. Dr. Christina Voigt and IUCN Deputy Director General, Dr. Grethel Aguilar.
Prof. Voigt highlighted a new phenomenon: climate change litigation having reached the international level (international courts and tribunals). And more specifically, the need for legal clarifications and authorative statements by international courts on international environmental law. In this regard, the WCEL Chair also emphasized that the Commission is preparing submissions to the Interamerican Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) on behalf of IUCN. WCEL aims to bring together science and legal expertise, a strength of the IUCN.
Dr. Aguilar emphasized that Advisory Opinions are a tool that comes with a great promise when it comes to climate change. However, because they are new, the international legal community is responsible to make sure that they are guided and used correctly. IUCN, through WCEL and the its other Commissions, has helped for decades to shape global legal networks to conserve nature and natural resources.
Session 1 of the webinar was “International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS): Request for an Advisory Opinion submitted by the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law”. Assoc. Prof. Chhaya Bhardwaj, member of the IUCN WCEL Early Career SG, provided an introduction which helped to set the scene for the dialogue that followed between Prof. Cymie Payne (Chair of IUCN WCEL Ocean Law Specialist Group) and Prof. Nilufer Oral (member of the IUCN WCEL Steering Committee).
Prof. Oral indicated that this is the third Advisory Opinion for ITLOS in which WCEL has been invited to contribute, and it represents a golden opportunity to have some clarification on some of the issues that are not clear in terms of how what state responsibilities regarding the oceans. Ocean acidification, ocean warming and sea level rise are all part of the climate change’s adverse impacts. Therefore, clarification on state responsibilities is very important for small island developing states since there are so many of these issues affecting them.
Prof. Payne acknowledged that the role of science will be very interesting, particularly from the IUCN perspective, since an advisory opinion it is not meant to be about facts but about the legal issues. Nevertheless, these legal issues are illuminated by the facts and this is where our Union not only shines, but also where it is expected to deliver.
For session 2, “Draft Resolution on the Request for an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the obligations of States in respect of climate change”, once again a member of the IUCN WCEL Early Career Specialist Group, Susan Ann Samuel, was in charge of providing an introduction to the discussion that followed.
Prof. Francesco Sindico (Deputy Chair of the IUCN WCEL Climate Change Law Specialist Group) commended Vanuatu for their diplomatic efforts regarding this advisory opinion, but also highlighted the key role that youth groups, originally had in pushing this initiative forward through the students in the Law School of the University of the South Pacific in Vanuatu.
Followingly, Prof. Margaretha Wewerinke-Singh considered interesting looking at the impacts of the ICJ intervention on this matter, but also of the other pillars of the climate change regime (e.g.: the Paris Agreement), including loss and damage, finance obligations, technology and capacity building. In addition, could an ICJ advisory opinion also bring more life to the human rights reference on the Preamble of the Paris Agreement?
Assoc. Prof. Claudia de Windt (member of IUCN WCEL Steering Committee) was the speaker for session 3: “Inter-American Court on Human Rights: Request for an advisory opinion from the Inter-American Court on Human-Rights concerning the interpretation of Article 1(1), 4 (1) and 5 (1) of the American Convention on Human Rights”.
Assoc. Prof. de Windt reflected on some the 6 topics and more than 18 questions contained in this advisory opinion. Moreover, she addressed the expectations that we can have based on previous experiences and IUCN’s contributions to this process. The first of them being that advisory opinions are more expeditious than a contentious case and therefore, an earlier outcome should be expected. In addition, there exists more coherence between the national, the inter-American and the global levels due to the interconnections made to MEAs, such as the Paris Agreement.
You can watch the full webinar and the speakers’ complete views on these three initiatives in the video below. Follow IUCN WCEL on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to know more about future webinars.