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Joint Seminar hosted by the Durham Energy Institute and the Durham Centre for Sustainable Development Law & Policy

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Prof. Payam Akhavan, Counsel for COSIS, Professor of International Law at Massey College, University of Toronto

Catherine Amirfar, Co-counsel for COSIS, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP

Zachary Phillips, Crown Counsel with the Attorney General’s Chambers of Antigua and Barbuda

Dr Sarah Cooley, Senior Director of Climate Science at Ocean Conservancy; IPCC lead author

Dr Shobha Maharaj, Chief Scientific Advisor at the Institute for Small Islands; IPCC lead author

Dr Rozemarijn Roland Holst, Assistant Professor in International Environmental Law at Durham Law School, fellow of the Durham Energy Institute, co-director of the Durham Centre for Sustainable Development Law and Policy


Small Island States are leading the way by using international law beyond the climate change regime to address a fundamental inequity. Having contributed negligible amounts to the causes of anthropogenic climate change, they and their peoples are suffering the most acute and costly impacts of sea level rise, ocean warming, and increasingly extreme and catastrophic weather events.

On 21 May 2024, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) unanimously delivered the first ever advisory opinion on climate change; clarifying states’ obligations under the law of the sea to protect the marine environment from the impacts of climate change. The request for this historic opinion was submitted by the Commission of Small Island States (COSIS). Parallel requests for advisory opinions on climate change are currently pending before the International Court of Justice, initiated by Vanuatu, and before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, requested by Chile and Colombia.

In this seminar, speakers will take stock of the significance of these developments and the leadership of Small Island States. They will reflect on key takeaways from the ITLOS Advisory Opinion and on the role of climate science in these proceedings. This seminar will also look forward to what is next in this year of unprecedented legal action outside the climate change negotiations and what the practical impacts and implications may be.

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