February 12, 2016

Faculty, students and alums actively involved in Paris climate negotiations

Lewis & Clark Law School had a significant presence at the climate change negotiations in Paris (UNFCCC 21st Conference of the Parties aka “COP 21”) in December.  Erica Lyman, Clinical Professor and Staff Attorney for the International Environmental Law Project (IELP), and a group of four LC law students, along with numerous alumni, were actively involved in the proceedings in various roles.

Lewis & Clark Law School had a significant presence at the climate change negotiations in Paris (UNFCCC 21st Conference of the Parties aka “COP 21”) in December.  Erica Lyman, Clinical Professor and Staff Attorney for the International Environmental Law Project (IELP) at Lewis & Clark Law School, and a group of four LC law students, along with numerous alumni, were actively involved in the proceedings in various roles.

Professor Lyman attended the negotiations as a legal advisor to the Maldives, a country that holds the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the negotiating group of the island countries. In this role, Professor Lyman supported the AOSIS legal team’s efforts to negotiate on Loss and Damage, perambulatory language, and numerous other legal issues, including the final provisions of the treaty itself. She also worked with a small group of lawyers on the Legal and Linguistic Review Committee, convened by the French Presidency, in order to review the legal text before submitting it for adoption.

The team of four LC law students – who attended as observers – and the law school alums, recently shared reflections on their experiences. “Attending the COP 21 meetings in Paris was an absolutely incredible experience”, said Liz Mering. “Learning about international treaty making in the abstract does not compare to observing it first-hand. Over the two weeks in Paris, I attended countless meetings, negotiations, read numerous versions of an ever-changing text, and conducted legal research on a variety of topics. It was fascinating watching global politics in action as each Party negotiated in their national interest. The first week, we were able to watch the negotiations of cross-cutting issues that were important negotiating issues for many countries. During those sessions, we took detailed notes to assist Professor Lyman in keeping track of the different Parties’ positions. Additionally, there were dozens of relevant side events held every day, which I was able to attend for my education and sometimes to help with IELP research and client work.”

Olivier Jamin described the second week of the negotiations, “which was very exciting because by that time the deadline for an agreement is looming on the parties to the conference, increasing the work and the willingness to compromise from different nations. I was personally amazed by the President of the COP 21, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, in the way he handled the negotiations. Facing the egos in the room from 196 countries is a tremendous task that he accomplished with brio, and emotion was clear on his face as he was tearing up during his closing speech.”

Max Zheng added: “Sensory overload is how I would describe my experience at the climate negotiations in Paris. There were news reporters, dignitaries, bloggers, activities, scientists, lawyers, professors, students, etc. Overall, I think there were some 50,000 participants and over 200 events for the two short weeks of negotiations. Coming from a scientific background, I was taught a very specific view and understanding to the climate change problem. It was certainly a learning experience for me to see how countries differed on that subject matter. The climate change negotiations impacted much more than just the global climate; it essentially created the framework for future economic growth. With a better understanding of the science of climate change, we are essentially able to roughly calculate the total emissions reduction needed to a finite number to curb climate change (to a certain degree). The challenge for the negotiation was not centered on the relative accuracy of this number or goal, but the ‘slice of pie’ each individual party should contribute to reach that goal. With economic development so closely tied to emissions, you can only imagine the difficulties with “fairly” dividing that piece of pie into 196 pieces.

The problems associated with this equitable division are really only evident when you’re there yourself. I got to witness the step-by-step evolution of the draft text and the countless hours of arguments. Not only that, I was also able to contribute to the overall process through assisting Prof. Lyman with draft text analysis and other climate change related projects.”

Ethan Bodegom, another one of the student observers, summed up the experience: “There is a limit to how much one can understand about the international treaty making process without witnessing it firsthand. Even though I had learned of the politicized nature of the international treaty making process, I did not truly understand just how politicized it could be until I witnessed it in person.  I left Paris with not only a much better understanding of the UNFCCC, but also of the international lawmaking process in general. I want to thank IELP and Professor Lyman for giving me the opportunity to attend these negotiations and have this remarkable experience.”

Elizabeth Crespo, an LC law student, was nominated to work as the CEPLAES (Centro de Planificación y Estudios Sociales) Climate Justice Representative in Paris.  “I tracked gender issues through WGC (Women & Gender Constituency) and reported findings back to the Ecuadorian civil society delegation as well as my working group, RSWG (Redd+ Safeguards Working Group). Through WGC, I helped lobby for gender rights to be more present in the binding part of the Paris Agreement, specifically in Article 2. As a member of RSWG, I advocated for ‘Indigenous Peoples’ and ‘Ecosystem Integrity’ to be in the binding part of the text.”

Many Lewis & Clark alums were also actively involved in the negotiations (some of whom participated in IELP while in law school). Orion Cruz (’12)  reported that he “was in Paris with an environmental organization that I did a legal internship with for 6 months (from Peru and Mexico City) in 2013 called the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA). They’re a regional (Latin American) environmental and human rights organization that, among other things, works on environmental and human rights cases and does climate change related work. While I was with them I worked on human rights/environmental cases, but because I had experience working at COP17 with Prof. Lyman and Prof. Wold through IELP, and had continued to follow the negotiation process closely, they invited me to assist their climate team in Lima in 2014 and again in Paris this year.

At the global climate change conferences, AIDA focuses primarily on issues related to climate finance and human rights. Therefore, at COP21 this year we were pushing for the best possible finance provisions, as well as for strong human rights language to be included in the agreement. Some examples of what we were advocating for in the finance realm included a strong accountability framework for climate finance, a clear mechanism to scale up climate finance, and a balance between finance for mitigation and adaptation. With regard to human rights, we were trying to get them to be as central to the agreement as possible, as well as advocating for countries to commit themselves (in their INDCs) to respecting them while implementing climate policies at home.

I also participated in the creation and presentation of an art project (as part of ArtCOP21–an art and culture festival that ran parallel to COP21) titled Lost Defenders of the Environment. It is a commemorative project aimed at spreading awareness about the large number of people who have lost their lives defending the environment in the last decade.”  

Abdullah Al Ghamdi (’13) participated as part of the Saudi delegation (having started out in COP 20 in Lima as a legal advisor). His role “involved advising the delegation on the legal aspects of the negotiation’s text; such advice included the drafting of textual proposals and in-session interventions. In addition to that, I negotiated on behalf of the Kingdom and the League of Arab States the final clauses of the Paris Agreement; the final clauses included compliance, entry into force, and other legal provisions of the Paris Agreement. Towards the end of COP 21, I was nominated and selected as a member of the rather short lived “Legal and Linguistic Review Committee” representing the Asia-Pacific region. The committee conducted a legal and linguistic review of the Paris agreement prior to its adoption.”

Amelia Linn (’12), an attorney with Islands First, also served as an adviser to the Republic of Maldives in its capacity as Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) both at the UN in New York and at the UNFCCC.  “I have supported AOSIS at the UNFCCC for the past three years attending the Warsaw, Lima, and Paris COPs as well as the many intercessional meetings on the road to Paris.  I began working on climate change as a student at Lewis and Clark and began working with islands through an externship working in the climate change office of the Republic of Palau.”

Grant S. Wilson (’12) helped organize several fascinating programs focused on the rights of nature and human rights that were held in Paris concurrently with the negotiations. He also helped author a comprehensive report detailing “co-violations” of nature’s rights and human rights worldwide, while working with San Francisco Bay Area-based Earth Law Center (ELC).  

One LC alum, Judith Needham (LLM ’15), was in Paris as a journalist for the Environment News Service (ENS). Founded in 1990, ENS is one of the oldest online wire services devoted exclusively to environmental news. Only 3,000 media worldwide were accredited to work the 2015 UNFCCC Paris meeting. Judith told us that ENS helped her “qualify for a Press Pass and sponsored my UN accreditation. Then began my crash course in UNFCCC! The experience was amazing — professionally and personally.” Judith filed 3 general background stories in November prior to COP21, and then 3 articles from Paris focused on niche topics that the major news services overlooked. http://ens-newswire.com/?s=needham

Lewis & Clark Law School and the International Environmental Law Project offers the kind of hands-on international environmental law experience that has a lasting impact on student’s careers and the planet.


The International Environmental Law Project at Lewis & Clark Law School (IELP) works to develop, implement, and enforce international environmental law to tackle some of today’s most challenging global issues, including climate changebiodiversity conservationoceans and fisheries and trade and the environment. As the only on-campus legal clinic at a U.S. law school focusing solely on international environmental law, IELP also educates and trains Lewis & Clark Law School students to become effective international lawyers. Through classroom instruction, representation of clients, and hands-on participation at international environmental treaty negotiations, students learn the fundamentals of international environmental law and policy.