Helping poor countries combat climate change

As a trainee in any City law firm, it’s fairly safe to assume you will do some pro bono work during your training contract.

At Weil, trainees are encouraged to do as much pro bono as possible. It is a way of fulfilling our professional responsibilities to the community, while helping us gain the much sought-after skills required for becoming real lawyers. Typically an email goes around the firm listing the available projects and what level of lawyer is required, if you have the time and interest in whatever that project might be, you’re in.

Fairly simple and straight forward so far. So what can you expect from these projects? Well for one, you won’t be left alone (which is really comforting as a trainee). You most likely won’t become an expert in a highly sophisticated area of law, but you will take away some knowledge you didn’t previously have and you will genuinely help a person or group of people along the way.

We were working with the Legal Response Initiative and the Institute for Environmental Development, both organisations that support the interests of the poorest countries of the world in key UN climate negotiation.

Our mission was to investigate international treaties and find examples of internationally binding financial commitments. Developed countries often make promises to assist under-developed ones, but don’t always make good on these promises. Why were we looking for this? To give negotiators in under privileged countries the tools for negotiation to unlock funding for climate change.

My admittedly naïve view on this was, why would these countries want money for climate change? Aren’t they more concerned about more immediate types of aid? But the takeaway for me was that climate change in under-developed countries is having a significant impact on people’s lives right now.

For example, a rise in sea levels could potentially cause significant areas of land to be uninhabitable by people living in low-lying country. A huge migration to inland areas would result, putting more pressure on already stressed communities. Droughts, crop destruction, land mass loss and loss of opportunity are all consequences of climate change that exacerbate existing poverty. Flooding as a result of climate change could leave enough people without food and shelter that could realistically cause loss of life.

So I embarked on my search, spent hours reading through the Montreal Protocol, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Environmental Pollutants etc and produced a workable list of examples.

What was the result? Well, I can’t say for sure that I helped secure a few hundred million dollars of aid for an under-developed country. Our work was used in an important paper by ECBI proposing ways to address loss and damage resulting from climate change. Our list is being used in international climate change talks by least developed country representatives. And I think I came one step closer to becoming a real lawyer.

Ramen Costa is a trainee at Weil, Gotshal & Manges