Matrix Seminar: Reflections on COP27


The Matrix seminar on 23 November 2022 showcased a range of perspectives on COP27, starting with this sobering video which our chair, Jessica Simor KC introduced.

The opening contribution was from James Cameron who gave a bird’s eye view of how far the COP process has come. He talked vividly about the importance of the psychology and atmosphere of the physical setting to draw people together, or apart, at the negotiating table. An important take-away was the role that investment in renewable energy can, and must, play in our global response.

Toby Fisher, who was present at the last COP in Glasgow on behalf of the New Zealand Government, brought the issue of Loss and Damage to life with some fascinating slides. Toby shared his thoughts on the (possibly limited) extent to which the Loss and Damage fund agreed at COP27 can be said to represent tangible progress.

The good news story was undoubtedly the recent successful decision of the UN Human Rights Committee in the Torres Straight Islanders (TSI) case: Billy et al v Australia. This was shared through words and pictures by Sophie Marjanac from ClientEarth, who acted for the complainants before the UN Committee. The Committee found a violation of Article 17 of the ICCPR (the right to family and home) and Article 27 (right to culture), focussing on the spiritual connection of the islanders with their traditional lands, and the dependence of their cultural integrity on the health of their surrounding ecosystems. The Committee also found that Australia has a duty to help TSI people adapt to climate impacts, caused by rising sea levels. The decision means that Australia must make full reparation to the TSI people and report back to the UN in 6 months.

Finally, Kate Cook took inspiration from David Bowie, entitling her talk “Putting out the fire with Gas(oline).” Kate reminded us of the “significant course correction, including profound changes in the financing” of all fossil fuels needed in order to deliver the goals of the Paris Agreement (Art 2(1)(c) and Art 8), as highlighted in a series of Production Gap reports from UN Environment Programme, drawing on the science published by the IPCCC. In the light of those reports, she questioned the legitimacy of COP27’s ultimate focus on (primarily) coal as opposed to all fossil fuels and gave us her view of the ways in which scrutiny of finance flows needs to change to meet these critical objectives including rigorous scrutiny at the future Global Stocktake.

The session concluded with a thought-provoking debate on ‘where next’ for climate change litigation on the national and international stage. Many of the audience were of the growing view that the time has come for strategic litigators in various spheres to step up and act on the crisis, and for funders to support them in doing so. The overwhelming view was that, whilst there are always risks inherent in litigation, and of making ‘bad law’, we are at a turning point in history. So it really is now or never.

By Zoe Leventhal KC


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