Workshop Report: Promoting the Mutual Understanding between Legal and Governance Scholars and Climate Scientists in Climate Scenario Assessments.

On 31 May 2023, the interdisciplinary workshop on promoting mutual understanding between legal and governance scholars and climate scientists in climate scenario assessments took place in Utrecht. It was developed through the Seed project ‘better integration of legal knowledge and scholars into climate scenario assessments’, supported by Pathways to Sustainability, Utrecht University.

This interdisciplinary workshop brought together leading climate scientists, legal and governance scholars mainly from Utrecht University and the Dutch Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) with an aim to exploring whether, what and how to better integrate legal boundary conditions into climate scenario assessments and the implications of scientific projections for climate policymaking and litigation.

The workshop started with a keynote speech given by Prof. Detlef van Vuuren, senior researcher at PBL, on ‘Scenarios, law, justice and models’. He introduced the functions of climate modelling and explained its implications for climate policy. He pointed out that the current studies on socio-economic feasibility space need to be complemented by law-based feasibility space with a reality check. After the keynote speech, Dr. Haomiao Du, the convener of this workshop, presented the preliminary results of the Seed project. The empirical study via expert interviews confirmed the urgent need to integrate legal aspects into climate scenarios. The value of interdisciplinary collaboration lies in the interactions between legal scholars and modellers: the former tell the latter ‘what elements’ should/could be integrated, while the latter validate whether the ideas are realistic, and discuss ‘how’ to integrate them together. Among the potential legal elements, the assessment of the quality of implementation and enforcement is of great interest to both sides.

Afterwards, three presentations were given from the perspectives of 1) the co-evolution of climate modelling and climate policy in history (by Lisette van Beek), 2) the implications of climate scenarios for climate litigation (by Prof. Edward Brans) and 3) interdisciplinary collaboration on climate research and climate policy scenarios (by Dr. Mark Roelfsema) respectively. All presentations were followed by expert comments from the perspectives of another discipline and then open discussion with all audiences.

At the end of the workshop, all participants agreed upon the importance of more collaboration between climate law and governance and climate science. We realised that even some ‘common sense’ that we take for granted in our disciplines could be exactly where the misunderstanding occurs. Some low-hanging fruits on the future research agenda include identifying feasible legal boundary conditions for a revised integrated assessment framework and developing scientific guidance for judges and lawyers to improve commonly accepted practice.

Currently, the Seed project team together with some workshop participants are drafting academic articles based on their reflections. More research outputs will follow.