Unlearning Myths at COP27 – Karen Lau

Myth #1: “Play the hand you’re dealt.”

Karen LauAs climate activists, it is far too easy to succumb to cynicism and accept that change will never come. In a series of panels titled “Futures Lab: Reconfiguring the Law for a Net Zero Future,” I unlearned some misconceptions, releasing my anxieties about the climate crisis and feeling more fulfilled by COP27 in the process. Georgina Beasley, the Secretary General of the Net-Zero Lawyers Alliance, told us to imagine a stack of cards, each symbolizing one field of law. She urged us to understand the value of our “card” and the impact of the advice lawyers provide to corporations and state agencies. By refusing to play the hand we are dealt, we can shift the dial of legal frameworks and unlock greater ambitions. Civil society has a hand in environmental, social governance. As citizens in both developing and developed nations, we must cooperate to fund losses and damages. Similarly, we must hold each other accountable for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and honoring our commitments to other countries.


Myth #2: “The market is always right.”

Sir Nicholas Stern stated that climate change is the result of the greatest market failure of our time. Businesses can use legal structures and change their operating models to accelerate climate action. While firms pay for materials and labor, they do not pay for externalities caused by industrial production, including greenhouse gas emissions. Market forces and unmitigated competition discourage firms from reducing emissions, causing the collective action problem and driving climate change. The Race to Zero Campaign, a global initiative for a zero carbon recovery, is an agreement that resolves the collective action problem. Market players and the private sector must cooperate to advocate for reforestation, decarbonization, and innovation.


Myth #3: “The law is static.”

Human-made laws and policies must adapt to the laws of nature. Antitrust law, which prevents companies from colluding to raise profits, is a tool to combat climate change. Lucy Maxwell, the Co-Director of the Climate Litigation Network, works to bring lawsuits against governments for climate mitigation. In 2013, the Dutch sued the government on the basis of a legal obligation to fight climate change. Since then, there have been 80 similar cases worldwide with 30 cases against the most powerful governments. Effective climate litigation leads to the reduction of emissions. By combining tort law, consumer law, business and human rights framework, we can create a robust mechanism to fight climate change. I asked Maurits Dolmans, a partner at Cleary Gottlieb, how the law can hold developed nations accountable for losses and damages. He spoke about the breach of duty of care and applying civil law to torts. The “polluter pays” principle applies to everyone. When firms or parties ignore climate change reports, the duty of care kicks in. Governments should anticipate and respect their legal duties to fight climate change.