Mastering in Environment, Energy and Climate Change Laws: My Experience at JGLS-WWF India

There is a clear need for a collective and enhanced action plan towards mitigating and adapting to climate change, the author explains.
Jindal Global Law School (JGLS)
Jindal Global Law School (JGLS)

Introduction: Necessity to respond to environmental degradation, disasters and climate change

If there is a country in the world that is not affected by climate change, there is none. The world has been experiencing increased instances of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, snowfall, prolonged drought, intense cyclones and storms etc. The Working Group I’s Contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC [AR6 Report] has revealed that the increase in the global mean temperature caused by human activities is unprecedented in at least the last 2000 years. In addition, as per the 2019 IPBES report, nature and its vital contributions to the people are deteriorating worldwide. India is not an exception; the heatwave she experienced in March is the hottest ever in the recorded history; she has been facing recurring cyclones, droughts and floods with increased frequency and intensity.

There is a pressing need for a collective response to vulnerabilities, threats and risks associated with climate change and disasters. A few such responses have been the gradual shift to renewable energy and commitments to net-zero carbon emissions, which unfortunately are not enough to at-least achieve the 1.5°C goal. There is a clear need for a collective and enhanced action plan towards mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Need for Specialization

Law plays an important role in this regard. With increasing government intervention in combating environmental degradation, disasters and climate change, there are huge opportunities for legal professionals to contribute to policy making. Further, with companies increasingly required to comply with ESG norms and disclosures, there is a greater need for professionals qualified with knowledge related to environment and climate change. There is also a rise in climate change litigations all over the world, and given the history of environmental litigations in India, climate change will also be of increasing relevance before the Courts.

Expertise in environment, energy and climate change related areas will only increase in relevance over the years. There are specialized tribunals dealing with environment as well as energy in India; the tribunals being the National Green Tribunal and the Appellate Tribunal for Electricity. Further, subordinate courts are expected to deal with torts associated with environment and climate change, and High Courts have their own writ jurisdiction. The doors of the Supreme Court can be knocked at through its original as well as appellate jurisdiction.

I believe that, with the increasing need to shift to renewable energy and achieve net-zero carbon emissions, coupled with the need to achieve ecosystem resilience within a broad social justice framework, a specialization in these areas will only increase the scope of practice for lawyers.

It is mandatory for law schools to teach Environmental Law as part of the U.G. course. Yet, a perusal of many of their syllabuses would reveal that they are limited to the history and development of international and national environmental laws, with an introduction to climate change. Yet, environment, energy and climate change are interdisciplinary subjects that require technical knowledge beyond the realm of law, such as politics, economics, history and even a bit of science. It is not possible for students to learn all these aspects over a single or two courses.

Why this Course?

This is where a specialized course dealing with environment, energy and climate change will help. These three areas have their own jurisprudence; yet it benefits to read them together. Firstly, they are closely related to each other and are important to understand concepts holistically; and secondly, it makes learning interdisciplinary. It is an added advantage if these courses are taught by professionals who are well-versed in these subjects.

I undertook the LL.M. in Environment, Energy and Climate Change offered by JGLS-WWF India for the year 2021-2022 and is certainly an interesting option for those looking to specialize in these areas. I joined this course as it has two major institutions coming together to offer it; JGLS is an established institution in legal education and WWF is well-known among environmentalists for its efforts towards conservation of the environment. I was confident therefore that the course would meet the standards expected from an LL.M. degree.

As a Masters degree in Law, it offers the core courses as mandated by the UGC, and specialized courses related to environment, energy and climate change such that they encompass the legal issues concerning these areas. The evaluation was also spread through different methods, such as with quizzes, discussion forum, seminar presentation and class participation having different weightage. In the end, we had an end semester exam that contributed to 30% of the total marks.

The highlight of the course was that the students who choose this course are all interested in the subject matter and hence the discussions are productive. We had a good mix of fresh graduates, advocates with varied experience as well as a Forest Officer in our batch, and therefore the kinds of perspectives we got to listen was varied. Yet, the biggest draw was the our field visit to the Sundarbans as part of the ‘Implementation of Conservation Laws in India: A Field Study’ course. We stayed there for two days and got a chance to witness and learn how climate change is affecting that wonderful ecosystem. We learnt about the conservation efforts taking place in that region, how embankments are constantly eroded, how the local people prepare for cyclones, and how sea level rise has led to certain landmass being submerged. It was only then that we realized the magnitude of efforts required to at-least decelerate climate change.

We also visited the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary for a bird watch. We had an ornithologist from WWF accompanying us to explain the landscape and how birds are spotted. We enjoyed cycling through the Sanctuary and understanding how lawyers must appreciate nature to critically evaluate environment law.

The course combines the three interrelated areas of environment, energy and climate change which has aspects relevant to both public law and private law practitioners. Therefore, I think this course should appeal to those who are not only interested in environment, but also those who wish to expand on their areas of practice.

Ramakash Suriaprakash
Ramakash SuriaprakashJGLS
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