Since the adoption of the Paris Agreement, the focus of the United Nations climate regime has shifted from forging consensus among national governments toward animating implementation activity across multiple levels. Based on a case study of the Global Climate Action Portal—an online database designed to document nonstate actor climate commitments and implementation efforts—we trace, conceptualize, and assess how the roles of data, data infrastructures, and actor constellations have changed as a result of this shift. We argue that in the pre-COP21 negotiation phase, the United Nations Climate Secretariat strategically used the database to orchestrate and leverage nonstate actor commitments to exert pressure on intergovernmental negotiations. By contrast, in the post-COP21 implementation phase, the Secretariat, in collaboration with climate data specialists, is seeking to develop the portal to track and animate implementation activity. Given these developments, we discuss the potential and limitations of data-driven climate governance and set out avenues for future research.
Laura Mai and Joshua Philipp Elsässer, Orchestrating Global Climate Governance Through Data: The UNFCCC Secretariat and the Global Climate Action Platform. (2022) 22(4) Global Environmental Politics; pp. 151–172.
The Anthropocene thesis, albeit not an unproblematic starting point, foregrounds the inadequacy of tacitly reproduced assumptions, theoretical dispositions, and conceptual repertoires which have supported a critical mass of legal thinking and praxis. Acknowledging the disruptive effects of the ‘Anthropocene’ for law, my aim in this article is to make explicit that re-imagining law for the Anthropocene requires letting go of dominant ways of thinking and doing law, while enabling more adequate conceptions and modes of engagement to take hold. I suggest that the process of re-imagining law for the Anthropocene requires navigating a space of continuity and break that demands the legal discipline to confront questions about disciplinary identity and responsibility. Reflecting on what the process of re-imagining law might entail and how it could unfold, I propose the ‘question of possibilities’ as a leitmotif and ask: What could law become? In so doing, I map out concrete strategies and commitments which might inspire and encourage engagement with this question. These include: a practice of radical self-reflection, the cultivation of a generative outlook, the acknowledgement of legal multiplicity, and a persistent commitment to meaningful change.
Laura Mai, The ‘Question of Possibilities’ as a Leitmotif for Re-imagining Law for the ‘Anthropocene’. (2022) Global Policy, 1–11.
Today, more than 8,000 cities and municipalities in 128 countries are taking action to address climate change.Footnote 1 To share information, build capacity and spread best practices, these cities participate in transnational governance networks – cross-border alliances which rely on voluntary cooperation among members.Footnote 2 By providing an evidence base for decision makers and establishing peer-to-peer learning mechanisms, these networks have the potential to enable city-level climate action.Footnote 3 However, research indicates that, as a result of limited mitigation ambition and weak monitoring processes, transnational city networks may make a less significant contribution to global climate governance than is generally assumed.Footnote 4 Even so, supporters of urban climate action argue that cities can and should play a central role in addressing climate change.Footnote 5 Jolene Lin’s Governing Climate Change: Global Cities and Transnational Lawmaking adds to the debate on whether cities and their transnational governance networks help in addressing climate change. Answering in the affirmative, Lin argues that city networks spread practices and voluntary standards, which eventually develop into ‘norms’ – reference points of appropriate behaviour which possess ‘a quality of “oughtness” that sets them apart from other kinds of rules’ (p. 127). Referring to these norms as ‘urban climate law’ (p. 128), Lin concludes that they positively contribute to global climate governance by complementing and reinforcing the international climate regime that has evolved under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)Footnote 6 (pp. 150–8).
Mai, L. (2019). Book Review: Governing Climate Change: Global Cities and Transnational Lawmaking, Transnational Environmental Law, 8(1), 193-197. doi:10.1017/S2047102519000013
Climate change, biodiversity loss, marine degradation and a pandemic have marked 2020. This article introduces a Special Issue that interrogates transnational environmental law in the context of the Anthropocene and invites reflection on the meaning and role of law in light of changing planetary realties. How law interacts with and governs the global environmental problems is a challenge that legal scholars have approached with vigour over the last decade and, more recently, the concept of the Anthropocene has become a topic that researchers have also begun to grapple with. One avenue of research that has emerged to address global environmental problems is transnational environmental law. Adopting ‘transnational law’ as a lens or framework through which to analyse environmental law takes a broader approach to the ways in which law may be assessed and deployed to meet global environmental challenges. The collection of articles within this Special Issue provide a timely intervention into the theoretical and practical approaches of transnational environmental law in a time of significant global uncertainty and environmental crisis.
Emily Webster & Laura Mai (2020) Transnational environmental law in the Anthropocene, Transnational Legal Theory, 11:1-2, 1-15, DOI: 10.1080/20414005.2020.1778888
In the Anthropocene, legal thinking is challenged to re-envision the ‘human' position vis-à-vis the ‘natural' ‘environment'. To map this challenge, this paper draws on three theoretical perspectives: social-ecological resilience thinking, social systems theory and post-humanism. The paper then explores how Jessup's perspective on transnational law could be applied to further develop legal thinking in the Anthropocene. It proposes that legal scholarship and practice would benefit from revisiting Jessup's move from ‘what?' to ‘how?': Rather than thinking about what (transnational) law might, or might not, be, legal researchers and practitioners are now tasked to understand how law can be mobilised as a tool to navigate our relationship with the planet. The paper concludes that Jessup’s practical, progressive and pragmatic approach provides a useful starting point for developing legal forms, strategies and technologies to navigate Anthropocene realities.
Laura Mai (2020) (Transnational) law for the Anthropocene: revisiting Jessup’s move from ‘what?’ to ‘how?’, Transnational Legal Theory, 11:1-2, 105-120, DOI: 10.1080/20414005.2020.1776551
Anthropocene is the proposed name for the new geological epoch in which humans have overwhelming impact on planetary processes. This edited volume invites reflection on the meaning and role of law in light of changing planetary realties. Taking the concept of the Anthropocene as a starting point, the contributions to this book address emerging legal issues from a transnational environmental law perspective. How law interacts with, and how law governs, global environmental problems is a challenge that legal scholars have approached with vigour over the last decade. More recently, the concept of the Anthropocene has become a topic that researchers have also begun to grapple with by engaging with disciplines beyond legal scholarship. One avenue of research that has emerged to address global environmental problems is transnational environmental law. Adopting ‘transnational law’ as a lens or framework through which to analyse environmental law takes a broader approach to the ways in which law may be assessed and deployed to meet planetary challenges. The chapters within this book provide a timely intervention into the theoretical and practical approaches of transnational environmental law in a time of significant uncertainty and environmental and human crises. The chapters in this book were originally published as a special issue of Transnational Legal Theory.
Emily Webster & Laura Mai (eds), Transnational Environmental Law in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the Role of Law in Times of Planetary Change (Routledge, 2021)
Earth System Law has been proposed as an alternative conceptual framework to animate and support more adequate legal responses to planetary change. The emerging Earth System Law literature has sketched the contours of this new legal paradigm and reflected on its implications for the legal scholarly community. However, to date, less attention has been paid to the challenges of harnessing the transformative potential of Earth System Law; that is, its promise to evolve from a theoretically innovative perspective to facilitating positive, on-the-ground change. In this paper, we therefore ask: Which issues and questions will the Earth System Law research community have to engage with to ensure that Earth System Law is able to initiate and drive the processes of transformative change which it purports to support? And, which starting points can we identify for productively engaging with these issues? Responding to these questions, we articulate a theory-to-practice agenda which sets out departure points for working towards Earth System Law finding resonance in practice.
Laura Mai, Emille Boulot, Harnessing the Transformative Potential of Earth System Law: From Theory to Practice, Earth System Governance 7(2021) 100103