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Climate Justice Under the Paris Agreement: Framework and Substance

Temitope Tunbi Onifade


The Paris Agreement is the first treaty under the global climate regime to mention ‘climate justice’ as a concept. Given this unprecedented legal turn of the concept, the article reports a sociolegal study of climate justice, framing and assessing the substantive policy issues arising from the post-Paris negotiations of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Gleaned from these framework and policy issues leading to the Glasgow COP in 2021, how does climate justice look under the Paris Agreement? Drawing on the author’s lived, legal practice and civil society experience, carrying out a doctrinal analysis of the UNFCCC and its instruments, and reviewing pivotal and representative literature and policy documents, the article claims that climate justice faces the fundamental challenge of state sovereignty. The author creates the conceptual and policy framework to identify the substantive issues converging on this fundamental challenge, assessing four of them: state self-centredness in addressing adaptation, state influence on the progress made on loss and damage, state autonomy and discretion in providing finance, and state-based policy-making that undermines inclusive decision-making. State and non-state actors are addressing these substantive issues already under the UNFCCC and beyond, and litigation has become a cross-cutting remedy. However, the fundamental challenge of state sovereignty remains.

Vanier Scholar, Peter A. Allard School of Law, Co-chair, Liu Institute Network for Africa, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, and Expert for Climate Law, Policy and Justice, Climate Teaching Connector, UBC. The author has presented previous drafts of the manuscript and received feedback from the Academic Council of the United Nations System Annual Meeting in June 2021, the UBC Climate Justice Webinar Series in March 2021, the UBC Climate Emergency Virtual Dialogue- Climate Justice in June 2020, and the UBC Liu Institute Network for Africa Symposium in October 2019. Thanks to Ruth Angela Situma, Linda Nowlan and Andjelka Mihajlov for reading and commenting on the drafts. Many thanks to the anonymous referees for thoughtful comments and Jakob McKernan for handling the manuscript. The research would not be possible without the Vanier Scholarship from the Government of Canada and the International Doctoral Fellowship and other grants from the University of British Columbia. For correspondence: <>.


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