Emily Farnworth, Director, Centre for Climate Engagement

30 Jun 2022

A new series of spotlight interviews shines a light on law for climate action

Ahead of a new monthly series of law for climate action interviews, Emily Farnworth, Director of the Centre for Climate Engagement at Hughes Hall, sets out the urgency of the climate challenge and the potential of our existing legal framework to provide additional tools to drive change.

Tackling the climate emergency is a complex challenge and requires multifaceted, collaborative and strategic action. The private sector has a significant part to play in delivering vital cuts in emissions – without this action the challenge will not be addressed swiftly enough and the race to net zero emissions and climate resilience will be lost.

The Centre for Climate Engagement at Hughes Hall was launched four years ago. Its remit is to transfer multi-disciplinary academic excellence in climate law and governance to support climate leadership to transform, transition and invest in a low carbon future.

Board-level recognition and understanding of the risks and opportunities associated with climate change is pivotal to addressing the challenge in a timely manner and requires every available tool at our disposal. Time is of the essence, and we must act now. The urgency of the climate challenge means we need to make full use of all existing resources rather than simply pinning hope on future possibilities – and this includes finding climate action opportunities within current laws and regulations.

Law for climate action is becoming an increasing area of focus for our Centre. Hughes Hall is known for its strong academic strength in law, underpinning our endeavour to establish a world centre of excellence for law and climate at the University, which already boasts the Cambridge Zero initiative. This summer marks the start of a Law and Climate Research programme at the Centre. This will produce a new online resource mapping how climate change intersects with a wide range of areas of law, providing a valuable asset for the academic, legal practitioner and board director communities our Centre is helping to build.

Why now? The latest science showing where climate change is heading is dire, making the urgency to reduce emissions at the required levels imperative. I have worked with the private sector for the last 25 years and despite regulatory drivers and voluntary commitments, the required reductions are simply not being made. Science tells us that we have less than 10 years to hit the trajectory that avoids the most disastrous consequences that will obliterate lives and livelihoods. We are already facing climate consequences and time is running out.

While law is an essential tool for climate action, the legal process can be slow moving. We don’t have time to rely on new policies and regulations but must consider existing laws available to us today. The UK, in some respects, is leading the way on this. While there is existing climate and environmental regulation, the areas to which it is applied, for example the heavily regulated energy sector, operate in siloes from a legal practitioner perspective. We need to use the full force of the entire body of law that we have. We need to break down siloes and work collaboratively to optimise the potential of all law and regulation to drive climate action. The Centre’s Law and Climate Research programme is part of our mission to raise awareness and speed up understanding of using the legal tools that we have to act now. Right now.

This summer will also see the start of a new series of Law for Climate Action Spotlight Interviews featuring a number of experts, both practitioner and academic, working in this area to shine a light on the current landscape and offer a range of perspectives at a number of levels – from local and national to European and global.

These interviews will not only provide a window to areas of climate law specialisms and activities but also help to tease out and explore some of the areas of law that we have not traditionally thought of as climate law but are relevant for climate action. Planning, contract law and property law are all potential rich sources. Our Law and Climate Research programme is starting to scratch the surface of some of those areas. The focus of this research will also help lawyers working in these areas to understand what the climate risks are and advise clients accordingly, and also how they could utilise existing regulations to allow and support companies and other organisations to address climate change in a better way.

Our series of Spotlight Interviews with experts in the field – see the list of contributors below – will help to shape these discussions and provide positive examples of real progress among the practitioner community that will inform and inspire. The Centre’s current work to bring to light existing laws and regulations that have significance in relation to climate action will add meaningfully to the tools at our disposal to accelerate the race to net zero emissions and better equip academics, lawyers and professionals to use their positions to be agents of change.

Meet the contributors to the Centre for Climate Engagement’s Law for Climate Action Spotlight Interviews that begin in July 2022.

Nigel Brook is Partner at law firm Clyde & Co and specialises in international insurance and reinsurance disputes. He leads the firm’s global campaign on Resilience and Climate Change Risk, building a body of know-how and raising awareness of climate-related legal duties and potential liabilities. He is a member of the Law, Regulation and Resilience Policies Working Group of the Insurance Development Forum – a public/private partnership seeking to optimise and extend the use of insurance and the industry’s risk management capabilities to protect those most vulnerable to disasters.

Professor Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger is an Affiliated Fellow of the Centre, and Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professor in the University of Cambridge with the Bennett Institute for Public Policy, the Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Governance (C-EENRG) and other partners. She also serves as Senior Director of the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law (CISDL) in Montreal, Canada; Executive Secretary of the Climate Law and Governance Initiative (CLGI) with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany; and a Full Professor of International Law for the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Canada.

Dr Markus Gehring, Associate Professor, Director of the Centre for European Legal Studies, Hughes Hall, University of Cambridge. Dr Gehring specialises in Sustainable Development in European and International Law, European External Relations Law and Policy, International Trade, Investment and Finance Law and Policy and European Environmental Law. He serves as Lead Counsel for Sustainable Trade, Investment and Finance Law with the Centre of International Sustainable Development Law (CISDL), based at McGill University. He edits the book series on Implementation of Sustainable Development Treaties with Cambridge University Press and is author of several publications on EU, International and Sustainable Development Law.

Wendy Miles QC is a specialist in international arbitration and dispute resolution with a focus on private and public international law. In the field of climate change and finance, Wendy acts as global coordinating counsel to various major corporates in relation to climate change transition, disclosure, reporting, compliance and investment. Wendy helped set up the Net Zero Lawyers Alliance, an initiative that mobilises commercial lawyers, law firms and commercial law to help achieve climate mitigation and adaptation goals. Wendy is currently studying for a PhD at the University of Cambridge.

Samuel Ruiz-Tagle is a Research Associate at the Centre for Climate Engagement. He is completing his PhD in the Faculty of Law at Oxford University. A public lawyer, he began his career as a legal advisor to the General Secretariat of the Presidency of Chile, where he is originally from. He also practised law for several years advising private and public companies in all aspects of public law, including planning and environmental law and natural resources law.

Dr Emily Webster is Assistant Professor in Environmental Law at the Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge. She is a senior research Fellow at the Transnational Law Institute, King’s College London, a member of the Centre for Climate Change Law and Governance, King’s College London, a Research Fellow for the Earth System Governance research project and a member of the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law. Emily teaches International, EU and domestic environmental law, tort law and company law.