Climate Litigation in the Global South Authors Present at the 7th Annual Rule of Law and Sustainable Development Seminar

Şimal Efsane Erdoğan, Melanie Murcott, Maria Antonia Tigre

On the 6th and 7th of October, the University of Southampton and Te Piringa Faculty of Law, Waikato University organized the “7th Annual Rule of Law and Sustainable Development Seminar”. The two-day hybrid seminar was hosted by Southampton University and consisted of five panels in which academics and practitioners across different institutions discussed varying perspectives on sustainability and the rule of law with a focus on climate litigation. The seminar provided an opportunity to compare developments in climate change litigation around the world and pose critical questions concerning the influence of litigation on the implementation of the Paris Agreement at a national and regional level, as well as the impact of the Paris Agreement on litigation to improve mitigation and adaptation in jurisdictions. Exploring Global North and South perspectives, the seminar aimed to determine how climate change litigation has contributed to the development of climate change law, and how future climate change litigation might be used to best effect.

Authors from the Global Network for Human Rights and the Environment (GNHRE) Project on Climate Litigation in the Global South (“the Project”) were invited to present their work-in-progress papers during the seminar. The papers presented during the seminar were the fruits of a series of discussions done since late 2021 as part of the first round of the Project. A diverse group of project participants, nine from Africa; twenty from Latin America and one from Asia came together to present their abstracts in a closed online workshop in December 2021. During the workshop, each contributing author of the Project has been distributed into thematic discussion groups and received feedback on their works from the participants in attendance including thirteen editorial team members around the globe who are established scholars. The authors of the Project then submitted their papers either in the form of an article or analysis piece in late July for initial review by the Project team. The Project leaders provided both editorial and merit-based comments on the papers which further helped the authors to shape the structure of their papers. 

The peer review procedure of the papers is still due, and all contributions to the first round of the project are to be published in a special issue of the Journal of Human Rights Practices in Spring 2023. Following the success of the first round of the Project, the second round, The Significance of Climate Litigation for Vulnerable Groups in the Global South,  has been launched. The focus of the second round is the relationship between climate litigation and the plight of groups who are particularly vulnerable to climate change and the findings of the second round is aimed to be published in 2024.

On the first day of the seminar, the project leaders Melanie Murcott and Maria Antonia Tigre chaired the panel on Climate Litigation in the Global South. They introduced the aims and achievements of the first round of the GNHRE Project on Climate Litigation in the Global South. Furthermore, they critically engaged with the narrative that climate change scholarship is dominated by Global North perspectives and voices, whilst climate impacts are suffered most acutely in the Global South, where vulnerability is the greatest, despite the Global North being most responsible for the crisis. They discussed Schipper et al’s ‘Equity in climate scholarship: a manifesto for action’ in Climate and Development (2021), which indicates the need to create spaces that amplify the voices of Global South scholars on climate scholarship. 

Murcott and Tigre discussed why the project focuses on litigation in the Global South and presented empirical evidence showing the increasing trend in litigation brought before national courts in the Global South. Additionally, Murcott and Tigre introduced the latest success of the project, the annotated bibliography of resources, in which researchers and the project leaders compiled literature on Global South climate litigation and related topics, featuring a significant body of Global South scholarship on climate issues. 

The panel also featured a presentation by Fernanda De Salles Cavedon-Capdeville (University of Alicante (Spain)), María Valeria Berros (National University of Littoral), Humberto Filpi (Federal University of Santa Catarina), Paola Villavicencio-Calzadilla (Universitat Rovira i Virgili (Spain)), who presented their paper entitled  “An ecocentric perspective on climate litigation: Lessons from Latin America.” Based on the latest developments in Ecological Law in Latin America, the authors discussed emerging climate-related cases in Latin America that address the climate crisis from an ecocentric perspective to protect both human and nature rights. As per their research, common features were identified in the climate cases of the region, such as the focus on ecosystems protection, the intergenerational and interspecies solidarity (as the intergenerational dimension of rights is approached from an ecocentric perspective), the recognition of legal personality to ecosystems and the articulation of human and nature rights, the multi-level and multi-thematic legal argumentation, the dialogue of courts on ecocentric arguments as well the consideration of interdisciplinary knowledge. Some challenges were also pointed out, especially those related to the implementation of favourable rulings.

On the second day of the seminar, Professor Murcott chaired the panel on Litigation in the Global South. First, Danielle Andrade Moreira’s (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro), Carolina de Figueiredo’s (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro), Ana Nina’s (Benefits Law Centre), and Maria Eduarda Segovia’s ( Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro) presented on “Rights-based Climate Litigation in Brazil: An Assessment of Constitutional Cases before the Brazilian Supreme Court”. The contributors shared their findings on the climate litigation cases’ judicial reasoning, and how the Brazilian Supreme Court addressed climate change in several decisions available thus far. Among other findings the authors stressed that the Brazilian Supreme Court is ready and eager  to challenge the abuses of executive action and inaction, affirming its fundamental role as the ultimate interpreter and enforcer of the Brazilian Constitution. Further, the authors emphasised that the Supreme Court did not shy away from carving its place in addressing environmental abuses affecting Brazil and the world. 

Second, Andrea Lucas Garin (National University of Córdoba) presented on “Charting the application of the IACtHR Advisory Opinion OC 23/17 in climate litigation in Latin America: The case of just transition in Chile” with Belén Olmos Giupponi (University of Portsmouth). Garin raised questions for the current debate and future development of climate change litigation in Latin America in light of the Advisory Opinion of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights “The Environment and Human Rights” OC-23/17.

Third, Diogo Andreolla Serraglio (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research) and Fernanda S Cavedon-Capdeville (Federal University of Santa Catarina) presented on “Global South Climate-induced Migrants in the Spotlight: Towards Recognition and Protection Through Climate Litigation.They argued that climate litigation as a strategy to prevent and manage climate-induced migration, as well as to safeguard people’s rights in situations of (im)mobility, is still at an early stage, and given the escalation of the climate crisis across the globe, coupled with the structural problems and vulnerabilities in Global South regions, litigation grounded in the human mobility – climate change nexus is increasing. 

Lastly, Natalia Urzola’s (GNHRE) presentation focused on gender issues and climate justice in Latin America. Urzola presented her research paper entitled “Gendering Climate Litigation in Latin America: Climate Justice Through a Feminist Lens. She discussed, among other things, what a gender-conscious approach could bring to Latin America’s climate litigation and women’s rights.  

The rich discussions that developed throughout the workshop further enriched the author’s research. Finalised articles of the first round of the project will be published in the special issue. This timely study is hoped to contribute to the legal scholarship on climate litigation which sorely lacks voices from Global South.