Research Group for European Law

Research fellow Esmeralda Colombo

Esmeralda Colombo is currently working on her PhD thesis, titled "Access to Justice Reloaded. The Role of International Law in National Climate Change Cases"

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In her PhD analysis, Esmeralda assesses the access to justice of individuals and NGOs in climate change cases before domestic courts. Within the collision of discourses—scientific, economic, legal, and political—that the problem of climate change is generating, national climate change cases are no panacea. Rather, they bring into focus and concretize specific issues, often cutting across national boundaries and societal sectors. Even though domestic courts have not established specific legal procedures to deal with the exceptionality of climate change, individuals and NGOs are increasingly resorting to the judicial process in order to attain not only access to courts, but also access to justice.

This study examines access to justice from two entwined starting points. The first starting point concerns the lack of clarity on access to justice in climate change matters as to its content and application in international law. The second starting point lies in a particular mechanism of access to justice that has emerged in climate change matters beginning in 2015. Since 2015, six different national judiciaries have interpreted domestic laws consistently with international obligations, the so-called indirect application of international law in national courts. The analysis begs a multi-level methodology residing in national and regional sources, public international law, and comparative law. Specific challenges in the methodological standpoint arise from the differentiation of the levels of the analysis (international, regional, and national), the selection and use of the case law, as well as outstanding uncertainties within the normative content of some of the selected international environmental law principles.

The present work is meant to seize a gap-filling opportunity concerning two aspects that have stirred little reflection in the literature: the role of international law with respect to access to justice in climate change matters, and the theory of international law in domestic courts adjudicating climate change matters. Whilst access to justice is often the object of legal appraisal in environmental matters, especially at the regional and national levels, no study has yet clarified its meaning and application in climate change matters in international law. Furthermore, the theory of international law in domestic courts is generally associated with enforcement theories, whereas this PhD analysis inquires into its application in the province of access to justice. Nonetheless, the findings of this analysis do not eclipse the challenges lying ahead for doctrine and practice. In particular, the final chapter elaborates three perspectives for further research regarding international law, procedural law, and methodology.

Click this link to view Colombo's researcher profile.