Published November 30, 2018
In the shadow of a stark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change saying the world has only a dozen years to limit the carbon dioxide emissions that lead to global warming, 10 UB law students will take part in efforts to realize that urgent goal.
The students are part of Professor Jessica Owley’s course “Climate Change Law and Policy.” They’ll join Owley in Katowice, Poland, next week at the 2018 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, where delegates will negotiate the difficult decisions on reducing emissions that were first envisioned in 1992 when the international environmental treaty was negotiated at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit. Annual follow-up meetings have gathered delegates from all signatory nations to work on the details of implementation. The law students will participate with observer status.
This is the fourth time that Owley, a specialist in environmental law, has traveled with students to be a part of the two-week negotiations. In 2015, law students witnessed the signing of the Paris Agreement. Since then, a SUNY delegation has also attended conventions in Morocco and Germany.
“I expect this year to be a somewhat significant year,” says Owley, who notes that although President Donald Trump has announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, the exit process takes years to complete. “Hopefully, this meeting will see the countries of the world making a plan to put the Paris Agreement into action and dramatically reduce carbon emissions worldwide. It’s really a unique opportunity for our students to see how these international negotiations happen — and to see how slow it can be.”
She says most in the class are interested in environmental law, as well as some who are drawn to international law. “This may be the only opportunity they’ll have as students to see a treaty being negotiated,” she says.
The students are able to take part because SUNY was selected, after a long and arduous application process, to receive a handful of badges for accredited observers. While there, students will work with Islands First, an NGO that supports low-lying island nations at the talks. Students will take notes and conduct small research projects to support under-resourced nations.
As part of their classwork, students have been writing blog posts in anticipation of the conference, and will blog from Poland about what they’re observing. Their posts can be found on their blog, SUNY Buffalo Climate Change Law & Policy. They’ll also write research papers on specific topics in climate change law, some likely to arise from their conference exposure.
Among the participants will be third-year students Jordan Hawkins and Colin Knoer, who say the experience will be like none other in their time in law school.
“It’s certainly an experience that you don’t get to have on your own,” Knoer says. “We expect to see a lot of policy-makers and important work being done at the table. There’s also a sense of the international community and networking, a chance to meet people you might not otherwise get a chance to.”
There’s a celebrity component, too, he says, including such names such as Al Gore and George Clooney.
“I’ll be interested to see how this whole process happens,” Hawkins says. “You see the agreement at the end, but typically you don’t see how it gets made.”
Both recognize the current presidential administration has colored the perception of the United States in the fight against climate change, but say they’ll participate in good faith. “I expect that most people will understand, that we are in fact interested in the issue and want to work to solve the problem,” Knoer says. “It will be an opportunity to put our best foot forward and explain that the official U.S. policy does not necessarily represent the views of the American public.”