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20.01.2022: Heidelberger Salon digital: “The Role of Law in the Age of Environmental Crises”

2​​​​​​​022 got off to a successful start with our first Heidelberger Salon of the year on “The Role of Law in the Age of Environmental Crises” taking place on January 20th.

Against the backdrop of the Anthropocene – the age of human-driven geological change – research and practice of international law must deal with the law’s complex role in relation to environmental crises. It can act as driver and enabler of environmental exploitation, as a tool for protection of the environment, and as a forum in which the responsibility for harm caused by global warming, biodiversity loss, rising sea levels, and extreme weather events is attributed.

The panel discussion, a rerun of last November’s digital panel session held at the meeting of Institute’s the Academic Advisory Board, elaborated on these ambivalences: Guillaume Futhazar, Dana Schmalz, Tom Sparks, and Pedro A. Villarealpresented aspects of their climate-related research conducted at MPIL.

Guillaume Futhazar discussed his reading of the complexity of international environmental law – the feature which makes it so difficult to predict legal outcomes in the field – and introduced his research to identify the legal, institutional, and physical dynamics which make up that complexity.

Tom Sparks spoke about the philosophical and historical underpinnings of legal régimes such as the Whaling Convention, and highlighted the need for reorientation: from anthropocentric goals of conservation for human interests to ecocentric approaches of protecting the environment for its own sake. This is also the aim of the World Lawyer’s Pledge on Climate Action, an initiative Tom co-founded jointly with Guillaume Futhazar and Saskia Stucki (who unfortunately could not participate in the Heidelberger Salon due to illness, but is also one of the key protagonists of ecocentric legal research at the Institute).

Dana Schmalz continued from another angle, illustrating the upheavals taking place in international legal régimes dealing with population growth and migration. In her interpretation, these currently so intense discussions arise from humanity’s attempts to (re-)organize cohabitation on a planet in distress.

Lastly, Pedro Villareal argued against features of a siloed, disciplinary mode of thinking which causes humanity to view issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic as unrelated to human-nature-relations. He concluded his statement with an appeal to pursue an integrated, multidimensional approach in shaping the law and institutions dealing with our common environment.

Our distinguished guests and members of the MPIL Academic Advisory Board, chair Jutta Brunnée (University of Toronto) and Andreas Paulus (Göttingen University/German Federal Constitutional Court), reflected on these impulses before moderator Alexandra Kemmerer (MPIL) opened the discussion to the approximately 60 participants, among them some eminent experts and practitioners of international environmental law . The ensuing Q&A proved enriching: From the theoretical use of international duties of cooperation for the protection of common goods to practical issues of waste management in the wake of the pandemic – the questions illustrated the diversity both of the challenges facing humanity, and the roles environmental law can play in surmounting them.


Report: Jakob Hach

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