PILnet gathered pro bono lawyers, NGOs, and academics for an afternoon of interactive sessions and candid discussions on how to respond to the climate crisis and displacement in partnership with civil society.

PILnet convened over 120 legal professionals, NGOs, and academics in London April 16, 2024 for a gathering titled “Exploring the Intersections: Climate Change, Displacement, and Civic Space.” The meeting presented a unique opportunity to discuss how pro bono legal support can amplify the work of civic groups pursuing climate justice and defending the rights of people displaced by climate change.

Hosted at the offices of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the event was a platform for sharing successes and challenges in how pro bono lawyers respond to these global crises in partnership with civil society, as well as a chance to break out of our bubbles and connect with people engaged in the topic from different professional spheres.

For the introductory session, we set the table with a guided brainstorming in which participants split into small groups to answer the questions: What concerns you the most about climate change? What is the role of civil society in the framework of climate change and displacement? What are the biggest challenges you face when working in these spaces?

For the next session, participants and panelists Kerry Stares (Charles Russell Speechlys), Veronika Pišorn (Pro Bono Connect) and Nina Garnham (Shearman & Sterling) shared their insights on ESG, pro bono, and conflict of interest. Conducted under the Chatham House Rule to foster open dialogue, the discussion yielded frank advice and practical tips for navigating sensitive questions that can arise when firms consider engaging with climate justice initiatives. Namely, the risk of conflict of interest for the law firms, whose current or potential future clients’ interests may be at odds with the goals of a climate NGO, as well as reputational risk for the NGO if they are perceived as linked to those companies via the law firm. Many of those present expressed appreciation for the space to take on these thorny issues and start a productive conversation.

In the final session, panelists already engaged in pro bono efforts at the intersection of climate change and displacement discussed opportunities for future work. In a session facilitated by Jasmine Simperingham (PILnet), Lucy Claridge (International Lawyers Project), Milly Thomas (DLA Piper UK) and Ali Al-Karim (Brick Court Chambers), participants shared their views on the role of lawyers responding to climate displacement:

  • Using loss and damages mechanisms, reparations, and damages funds to support people displaced by climate change.
  • The importance of lawyers collaborating across disciplines (e.g. climate lawyers and refugee lawyers) and with climate scientists and civil society.
  • The need to craft ambitious (but meritorious) legal arguments to change the narrative about government obligations to prevent and respond to climate change and climate-related displacement. 
  • Setting precedence for a right to protection for those who experience displacement as a result of climate change.
  • Efforts to creating a database of relevant cases, arguments, and comments to support lawyers engaged at the intersection of climate and displacement.

The event concluded with a sense of determination among participants to continue working collaboratively to address climate change and large-scale displacement.

“There are so many individuals, organizations and firms out there who want to ensure access to justice and who are helping people in need,” noted one participant. “Events like the PILnet European Convening are crucial for people to connect and start collaborating together.”

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