Hawaiʻi Law Students Witness International Climate Negotiations

Jan 3, 2019

UH Law School sent its first delegation of observers to international climate negotiations in Poland. This is the 24th Conference of Parties (to the Paris Agreement), also known as COP24. From left to right: students Ryan McDermott, Tiana Winstead, Stacey Gray, Professor Denise Antolini, student Miranda Steed, and Professor Richard Wallsgrove.
Credit UH Law Environmental Law Program

A group of University of Hawaiʻi law students recently returned from international climate negotiations in Poland. This was the first time the University sent a delegation of observers to the United Nations Climate Change Conference. HPR Reporter Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi has this story.

Homework assignments and classroom hypotheticals were no match for a front row seat to international climate negotiations.

Miranda Steed at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland. The third-year Hawai'i law student got a chance to witness international climate negotiations in person.
Credit UH Law Environmental Law Program

The biggest takeaway for third-year Hawaiʻi law school student Miranda Steed was…

“…that I think international environmental law is a glacial process,” says Steed.

And not everyone gets their way.

“Well this is going to sound a little pessimistic…,” says Steed, “…but at the end of the day, it's the negotiators and the state interest that decide what's going to happen.”

Steed is studying environmental policy and international law. She's part of the University's first delegation of observers to the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

“Being able to engage with people across the world who are facing climate crisis at their doorstep makes a big impression,” says UH Law Professor and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Denise Antolini, who joined students at the conference.

“Climate change has to be an essential element of our education here at the University of Hawaiʻi, throughout the system,” says Antolini, “Particularly at the law school it's really important because of the role of law in these negotiations all the way down to state policy here in Hawaiʻi.”

Representing UH Law School are (From L-R): Professor Denise Antolini, student Stacey Gray, University of Oslo Law Professor Christina Voigt, student Miranda Steed, student Tiana Winstead, student Ryan McDermott, and UH Law Professor Richard Wallsgrove.
Credit UH Law Environmental Law Program

Students found solidarity in a group of youth delegates representing non-governmental organizations working on climate change issues. The youth group focused their efforts on strengthening enforcement of the Paris Agreement.

“If we don’t have strict compliance now we are not going to meet the one and a half degree goal,” says Steed, “I mean we are going to see extreme crisis with climate change and it’s going to be younger people who are going to bear the brunt of that.”

The main goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement is to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to keep average global temperature rise below that 1.5 degrees Celsius target. Steed says perhaps compliance negotiations would be more fruitful off the international stage.

“When you have 185 people at a table it’s really hard to meet that common ground. The argument for regionalism is that you have standards that are specific to you,” says Steed, “They’re based on your regional challenges. You have countries that are in similar situations so that when you are making rules, and you’re negotiating with each other, and keeping each other in compliance, you understand the situation. It’s also just easier to relate to your neighbors.”

Professor Antolini hopes to continue the University of Hawaiʻi's participation in international climate talks. As for Steed, she's eyeing a future seat at the table.

“Yeah, if there's any states out there looking for a negotiator I'm available,” says Steed, “I graduate in May.”