January 07, 2016

Reflections from Paris: IELP student Liz Mering’s experience at the climate change meetings

Liz Mering, a 3L student, shares her reflections.

The International Environmental Law Project (IELP) at Lewis & Clark Law School works with governments, non-governmental organizations, and international institutions to develop, implement, and enforce international environmental law to tackle some of today’s most challenging global issues, including climate changebiodiversity conservationoceans and fisheries and trade and the environment. As the only on-campus legal clinic at a U.S. law school focusing solely on international environmental law, IELP also educates and trains Lewis & Clark Law School students to become effective international lawyers. Through classroom instruction, representation of clients, and hands-on participation at international environmental treaty negotiations, students learn the fundamentals of international environmental law and policy.  This year, Prof. Erica Lyman took a group of four students to Paris for the climate change negotiations (UNFCCC 21st Conference of the Parties aka “COP 21”).

Professor Lyman attended the negotiations as a key legal advisor to the Maldives, a country that holds the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the negotiating group of the island countries. In this role, Professor Lyman supported the AOSIS legal team in their efforts to negotiate on Loss and Damage, perambulatory language, and numerous other legal issues, including the final provisions of the treaty itself. Professor Lyman also worked with the Legal Expert Review Team convened by the French Presidency in order to review the legal text before submitting it for adoption. The team of four students attended as observers. Liz Mering, a 3L student, recently shared her reflections on the experience in Paris.

“Attending the COP 21 meetings in Paris was an absolutely incredible experience. Learning about international treaty making in the abstract does not compare to observing it first-hand. Over the two weeks in Paris, I attended countless meetings, negotiations, read numerous versions of an ever-changing text, and conducted legal research on a variety of topics. It was fascinating watching global politics in action as each Party negotiated in their national interest. The first week, we were able to watch the negotiations of cross-cutting issues that were important negotiating issues for many countries. During those sessions, we took detailed notes to assist Professor Lyman in keeping track of the different Parties’ positions. Additionally, there were dozens of relevant side events held every day, which I was able to attend for my education and sometimes to help with IELP research and client work.

During the second week, the negotiations moved to high-level ministerial negotiations, which changed the tenor slightly. The meetings were more often closed to observers (our designation) but the research we were doing to assist Professor Lyman became more focused on issue-specific questions. The last few days the text was changing almost daily and we were either waiting for revised text or frantically looking for potentially legally and/or politically significant commas and other drafting issues. Professor Lyman helped us identify bad drafting and distinguish it from intentional (and negotiated) ambiguity. Attending COP 21 was an invaluable experience for learning about the politics and legal issues involved in international lawmaking. I left with a much more thorough understanding of the Climate Change Agreements but also of the politics and process. I am very grateful to IELP and Professor Lyman for giving me this incredible experience.”


Stay tuned for more stories about Lewis & Clark faculty, students and alumni involvement at the COP meetings. For more information about IELP click here.