Story | 18 Dec, 2020

2020 WCEL Climate Justice Moot Court Explores Legal Obligations to Protect Forests to Mitigate Climate Change

In early December 2020, the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL), in collaboration with the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law, hosted the virtual 2020 WCEL Climate Justice Moot Court.

The 2020 WCEL Climate Justice Moot Court is the latest in a series of six moot courts launched at the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii. Unlike traditional Moot Court competitions, these events allow students to collaborate with experts and mentors to achieve high-quality legal analysis and present a simulated oral argument. The memorials and oral arguments contribute to global legal knowledge on pressing environmental rule of law issues. 

The 2020 Moot Court is distinguishable from prior moot courts in the series because of the online format. As a result of the COVID-19 global health pandemic, it was not feasible for the teams to travel to compete in person. Instead, the organizers had to schedule multiple virtual sessions to accommodate various time zones around the world. The event set a new model for moot court in this era of long-distance collaboration, expanding horizons of law students, faculty, and experts.

A panel of sitting judges from around the world played the role of judges from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) while the students presented oral arguments to showcase an actual proceeding that would take place in front of the court. The following judges participated in the event:

  • Associate Justice Robert J. Torres, Supreme Court of Guam
  • Justice Nicola Pain, Land and Environment Court of New South Wales, Australia
  • Justice Millicent Odeny, High Court of Kenya
  • Justice Michelle Weekes, High Court of Barbados
  • Associate Justice Michael D. Wilson, Hawaiʻi Supreme Court

International student teams were composed of law students from the University of Cebu School of Law (Philippines) representing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand) representing New Zealand;  University of La Rochelle (France) representing France; University of Oslo (Norway) representing UNICEF; Strathmore University Law School (Kenya) representing the African Union; and Federal University of Santa Catarina (Brazil) representing Eco Forestania.

The students were asked to address a hypothetical problem presented to the ICJ for an advisory opinion:

What are states’ obligations under international law to protect and conserve forests under their national jurisdiction, as a response to climate change and for the benefit of present and future generations?

Co-organizer David Forman, Director of Hawai'i's Environmental Law Program, said that "In addition to the students, coaches, judges and experts who volunteered their time, another team of volunteers made up of WCEL members around the globe provided input from the beginning and WCEL Executive Officer Emily Gaskin's assistance with the transition to our first virtual moot court was invaluable.  Collaboration and cooperation are infectious too!"

The following subject matter experts graciously provided input and coaching during the preparation process:

  • Christina Voigt, University of Oslo (Norway)  
  • Catherine Iorns Magallanes, Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand)
  • Agnes Michelot, University of La Rochelle (France)
  • Emmah Senge, Strathmore University Law School (Kenya)
  • Jose Rubens Morate Leite, Federal University of Santa Catarina (Brazil)  
  • Rose-Liza Osorio, University of Cebu School of Law (Philippines)
  • Kristine Joy Argallon, University of Cebu School of Law (Philippines)
  • Harro van Asselt, University of Eastern Finland (Finland)
  • Irina Krasnova, Department of Environmental and Land Use Law, Russian State University of Justice (Russia)
  • Annalisa Savaresi, University of Stirling (Scotland)
  • Geneviève Motard, University of Laval (Canada)
  • Ali Mekouar, Université de Casablanca (Marocco)
  • Jérôme Fromageau, Université Paris-Sud (France)
  • Erin Okuno, Stetson University (USA)
  • Achinthi Vithinage, George Washington University Law School (USA)
  • Maša Kovič-Dine, Faculty of Law, University of Ljubljana (Slovenia)
  • Richard Wallsgrove, William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (USA)
  • Claudia de Windt, Founding Partner & CEO, Inter-American Institute on Justice and Sustainability (USA)
  • Shalanda Baker, Northeastern University (USA)

A recording of the Moot Court, as well as the written submissions prepared by the students, will be made available on the WCEL Website shortly.