MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Christina Voigt

This month we are happy to highlight the impressive work of our GNHRE member Christina Voigt.

Dr Juris Christina Voigt is professor at the Department of Public and International Law, University of Oslo, Norway.

Professor Voigt is an expert in international environmental law. She works in particular on legal issues of climate change, biodiversity conservation, environmental multilateralism and sustainability. 

She is the author of numerous academic articles and several edited volumes. More information about her professional and academic profile here.

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1.Christina, what led you to work on human rights and the environment?

My background is in international environmental law. However, when working on environmental challenges, the close inter-linkages with human rights become obvious. Global environmental degradation affects human and natural systems alike. It is not only important to understand the factual linkages between environmental problems and human rights violations. I find it particularly opportune and timely to investigate into the legal interfaces between the two areas of law.

I have taught human rights law and the environment for many years, but it was perhaps not before the legal advances in the Paris Agreement (i.e. to recognize state’ existing human rights obligations) and the rise of climate litigation based on human rights claims, that in my own research I started to investigate into the legal linkages and normative overlaps of environmental and human rights law.

2. What have you have been working on recently and/or what is your next big project?

I have been working on how to interpret human rights law in light of the Paris Agreement. A crucial aspect here is the standard of care to be applied by states in positively ensuring human rights. In this context, the due diligence obligations contained in the Paris Agreement to adopt climate mitigation measures at the level of highest possible ambition and to implement domestic mitigation measures with the aim of achieving them, are relevant to the interpretation of human rights norms.

For some examples of my work, see:

Voigt, Christina (forthcoming in 2021) The Climate Dimension of Human Rights Obligations, Journal of Human Rights and the Environment.

Voigt, Christina (forthcoming in 2021) The Climate Judgment of the Norwegian Supreme Court: Aligning the Law with Politics, Journal of Environmental Law.

For further work, see:

Voigt, Christina (ed.) (2019) International Judicial Practice on the Environment – Questions of Legitimacy (Cambridge University Press) ISBN 978-1-108-49717-6.

Voigt, Christina and Makuch, Zen. A. (eds.) (2018) Courts and the Environment (Edward Elgar Publishing) ISBN 978-1-78811-466-0.

Voigt, Christina and Knox, John (eds.) (2020), American Journal of International Law (AJIL) Unbound, Volume 114, Symposium on Jacqueline Peel & Jolene Lin, ‘Transnational Climate Litigation: The Contribution of the Global South, 35-66.

Voigt, Christina and Grant, Evadne (eds.) (2015) 1 Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, Human Rights courts and environmental disputes.

Apart from legal research, I am also active in the academia-policy interface. I am currently running as candidate for chair of the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law. The election is scheduled to take place during the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille, September 2021. The Commission has members in literally every country in the world and is a forum for bringing together a large network of environmental legal scholars, professionals and decision-makers. The commission can, in my view, become an important driver for a closer cooperation between environmental lawyers and human rights experts. We are currently witnessing a growing consensus on the recognition of a human right to a clean and healthy environment. The commission together with partners worldwide can contribute to strengthening knowledge and capacity on how to define, interpret and implement such right.

3. Which scholars, writers, or activists do you think are not getting the attention they should be getting?

I think this applies to very many scholars, activists and writers. However, I do not necessarily subscribe to the need for attention. Rather, the quality of work is important and its impact.

Yet, I think that the work which many legal practitioners do, is important. They may not have the time to publish extensively, or to campaign publicly. But the judges, legal counsels and claimants (often youth organizations or children and young individuals) which recognize the urgency and crucial importance of protecting the environment as a crucial condition for the enjoyment of a long list of human rights, deserve praise and recognition.

4. As briefly but as specifically as you can say, what the most compelling challenges in HR & E right now? Can you briefly describe any proposed solutions?

Apart from the obvious procedural challenges such as standing, access to court/justice, but also effective implementation and enforcement, there are some more intricate legal challenges that deserve more attention. I am thinking of issues such as defining the threshold of harm, the role of the precautionary principle and possibility for reversal of burden of proof, questions of causation including presumption of violations based on the presence of harm, defining the standard of due diligence etc.

Also, it is important to remember that human rights law (and environmental law) do not exist in silos. Better cooperation, integration and mutual supportiveness are necessary. This applies also – or perhaps in particular – to address the linkages between human rights and environmental protection in other legal instruments, e.g., Free Trade Agreements, Bilateral or Regional Investment Treaties, commercial contracts etc., as well as strengthening the expertise of arbitrators and judges with jurisdiction over such instruments.