Alasdair Cameron is a recent graduate from the University of Edinburgh’s Global Environmental and Climate Change Legal Masters Course and now works at the Law Society of England & Wales as their first Climate Change Resource Adviser within their Policy Team. Before this, he worked at the United Nations as an intern for five months. In his blog, Alasdair discusses his academic trajectory as a recent law graduate entering the field of climate change policy.

During a lot of law school, I struggled to grasp any particular subject with any great deal of passion. Although I enjoyed studying the law, I had yet to find an area of the law I could genuinely see myself working in. I was approaching my final year of studies and had just spent a summer interning at the Procurator Fiscal’s Office at the Sheriff Court. I was faced with the decision as to whether to pursue a more ‘traditional’ avenue within the legal profession or opt for the unknown and enter an area which I felt passionate about from an entirely social and personal perspective, not a legal one – climate change and environmental justice.

Although I had barely any idea what the law in these areas looked like, I elected to take two courses during my final year of my Scots Law LLB on International Environmental Law and Global Environmental Justice. This decision has been instrumental in guiding my professional and academic development post-graduation.

At the time, these topics were seen as existing on the fringes of mainstream law. However when I began studying them, a change had begun. It was around this time the #FridaysForFuture strikes had begun and a young girl from Sweden was beginning to breach the headlines; the prolific Dakota Access Pipeline protests were reignited when the Obama legislation was reversed under the Trump Administration; the Urgenda case had already begun to make ripples into the classroom in advance of its landmark decision; and the new EU Green Deal had been announced in a post-Brexit environment.

These provided ample topical fuel to contextualise classroom discussions as well as identifying linkages towards relevant pieces of domestic and international law.

It did not take long for me to realise I had landed upon a legal discipline that I not only knew little about at the beginning of that academic year but merged my academic interests with an area I truly felt passionate about.

What initially drew me outside of the social and nature aspects was how environmental and climate change law are both extremely dynamic areas of the law and are inherently interdisciplinary – engaging a large spectrum of different branches of legal doctrine rather than being consigned to particular statutes as can often be assumed. Further, its doctrine is inherently grounded in pertinent social issues and addressing fundamental existential issues which affect the entire globe – engaging grassroot organisations and indigenous peoples to international lawmakers and politicians. The rate that developments occur means that I was constantly learning and engaging new skills, driven by the goal of helping bring global justice – one of the core reasons many people, myself included, are drawn to legal studies.

Following my graduation, I was fortunate enough that not only did I have a leading Masters course on Global Environmental and Climate Change Law right on my doorstep in Edinburgh, but that I managed get a place on the course. Here I studied the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its legal instruments – particularly the Paris Agreement – in depth, climate change litigation and international environmental law among other subjects.

This raised my awareness and understanding of how dire the science predicts the effects of climate change will be, and the immense action gap if we are to reach the overarching temperature goal set by the Paris Agreement of well below 2°C. This has provided urgency in all the work I undertake knowing simply what is at stake if inertia continues.

Further, being surrounded by like-minded students, being continually challenged and pushed in an academic environment on a specialised course, and being taught by leading experts at the international level has been essential in forming the working knowledge and skills that I use in my current position at the Law Society of England and Wales, as well as my time interning at the United Nations.

Being able to enter these complex environments with a working knowledge of international law, international treaties, UN bodies and policies and their associated debates has allowed me to hit the ground running to tackle climate change issues in a variety of sectors at both the international and national levels.

If it were not for my university offering bespoke and in-depth courses on environmental and climate change law, the chances of me working in this discipline today would be slim and at minimum would have taken me a lot longer to get to where I am today. I am continually commended on my enthusiasm, which makes me recognise how dearly we need young people working in climate change law and policy – it is our future at stake.

Consequently, it is vital that law schools provide well-supported paths into this emerging section of the profession, providing it with the credible and recognised role it deserves. Just as data-protection lawyers have emerged as a distinct discipline with the rise of Lawtech, law schools must be attentive to fast-approaching changes on the horizon. Whether it be in providing distinct courses on climate change and environmental law, or teaching how climate change will impact the entire legal sector, as the rate of change and volume of law in the area of climate change and environmental law is immense, with the realms of possibility continually expanding.

As John Kerry said at a recent event at the American Bar Association “you are all climate lawyers now”.

Lawyers have historically played crucial roles in vital societal changes. Ensuring that future generations of lawyers have the knowledge to uptake similar action on spurring climate action and at minimum be prepared for how climate change will affect some of the more traditional corners of the profession will ensure the future-proofing of profession and allow law students to utilise the law as a powerful tool in humanity’s fight against the climate crisis.

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