Summary of conference

UCL Faculty of Laws hosted a Postgraduate Environmental Law Symposium on 7th November, jointly organised by the UCL Centre for Law and the Environment and KCL Dicksoon Poon School of Law.

Symposium aim: challenging forum to build a research student community

The Symposium was the initiative of two PhD Candidates, Emily Barritt (KCL) and Carrie Bradshaw (UCL), who together hosted 16 excellent student speakers and a delegation of over 60 research students, LLM students and academics from a range of institutions across Europe.

Presentations were followed by debate and discussion ably chaired by experts from UCL, KCL, Oxford and Trinity College Dublin.  The debates were challenging for speakers, but the atmosphere supportive and affable, with lively discussions inside the sessions continuing outside over coffee.


The Symposium provided a platform for building a sense of community and collaborative work amongst those dedicated to environmental law scholarship. I myself was delighted to meet other Brazilian environmental lawyers who also study in Europe. Without the Symposium, it would remain difficult for a number of the student delegates to meet each other and exchange ideas. I’m sure these relationships will last beyond the day.


About the sessions: overlap and diversity

Environmental governance – the challenges of public participation

The challenges of governing environmental protection was a persistent theme throughout the day, especially the need for public participation in environmental decision-making.  These were addressed in the context of various legal regimes; David Yuratich, discussed pubic participation in environmental assessments pursuant to EU Law, Aleksandra Bojovic considered the same issue in the context of WTO agreements.


Debate in various sessions reflected the tensions between facts and values (how do we balance scientific ‘objectivity’ with public opinion?), and procedural versus substantive rationales for public participation (is participation a democratic good in and of itself, or a necessary precondition for better environmental decision-making?). Perhaps nowhere are these tensions more visible than in the context of Biosafety, as highlighted by Jingjing Zhao’s consideration of China’s attempts to reconcile various treaties on the subject.


The norms of public participation remain challenging, be it in the EU, the WTO, or elsewhere.  As identified by Uzuuazo Etemire (considering legal models of environmental participation for Africa), there is plenty of scope for cross-learning


‘Old’ philosophical questions remain relevant for new environmental methodologies

The session on New Environmental Methodologies was highly engaging, and surely the topics covered are compulsory academic homework for all environmental scholars.


Lucy Anderson, one of the Symposium’s ‘non-lawyer’ presenters, outlined the contribution to environmental protection of Sustainability Science, a transdiciplinary approach which focusses on the environmental problems at hand, in turn rejecting the  constraining boundaries of compartmentalised academic sub-disciplines. Numerous presentations throughout the day engaged in just such interdisciplinarity, particularly the presentations by Irene Bullmer, Rosa Bloomberg and Kate Wilkinson on socio-legal, cultural and feminist perspectives on environmental law.


The emergence of Ecosystem Services, the methodological practice of financially valuing environmental resources to ensure their protection, highlighted the philosophical debates which continue to challenge scholars today. Lizzie Fusco’s provocative question, ‘do ecosystem services represent the future of nature conservation, or the inappropriate monetisation of environmental goods?’, echoed throughout the day in debates over human- versus eco- centred understandings of environmental value.


The scope for human and environmental interests to go hand in hand could be seen in Handa Abidin’s discussion of indigenous peoples, deforestation and climate change, and Chiara Feliziani’s analysis of the adjudication of human health and the environment by the European Court of Justice.  But it is clear that these philosophical questions must inform the need, identified by Thomas Koller, for an underlying system of values for the environmental decision-making of the International Court of Justice.


The big problem? Climate change: emissions litigation and regulation

Is there any ‘sexier’ environmental topic today than climate change? Kim Bouwer’s claim that the private law barriers to decarbonising the built environment represents the ‘unsexy’ end of climate change litigation must be questionable (I myself was entirely seduced by the paper!). But Claire Stockwell’s massive empirical undertaking in mapping climate change case did highlight how private law disputes are not the only form of climate change litigation.


Lively debate occurred between Eva Barrett and the floor as to whether US case law has inappropriately closed the back-door to regulating carbon emissions via litigation. And Josephine van Zeben provided the audience with an economic perspective on climate change, outlining the optimal allocation of regulatory competence: who should legislate on carbon emissions, international actors or nation states?


The quality of the presentations was exceptional, and UCL, with its expertise in environmental law and governance, was the perfect home for such a worthwhile event.