New York International Law Review 2024 Symposium

International Law and the Fight of Our Lives: Responding to Climate Change and Protecting Human Rights

Friday, April 19, 2024

St. John’s University School of Law
8000 Utopia Parkway
Queens, NY 11439

About the Symposium

In the past year, we have witnessed the hottest days, hottest months, and the hottest summer on record. In his opening address of the 2023 General Assembly, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “Behind every broken record are broken economies, broken lives, and whole nations at a breaking point.” 

Our overheating planet is the most immediate threat to our future. It is the fight of our lives. Keeping to the promises of the Paris Agreement requires drastic steps both domestically and internationally. Domestically, climate policies should commit to decarbonization and deep emission cuts, while ensuring these “green policies” are inclusive of all voices—minority groups, women, and indigenous groups. Internationally, litigation has become an avenue to put states on notice that they need to put climate change on the tops of their agendas. The link between climate change and human rights has allowed for international human rights courts to take on this challenge, as well. 

This Symposium will address a range of topics, themes, issues, and questions, including:

  • Keeping rising temperatures within the 1.5 degree limit of the Paris Agreement will require drastic steps, such as shifting away from burning fossil fuels and deep decarbonization. What are domestic legal pathways to achieving such policies?

  • Those who suffer the most from climate change are often the ones least responsible for causing the problem. “Climate justice” recognizes the disproportionate impacts of climate change on low-income and BIPOC communities around the world. How should lawmakers ensure that minority groups, women, and indigenous groups have a meaningful say in the design and implementation of climate policies and law? How do we protect these groups and states like small island developing states from the harms of climate change?

  • Litigation in international courts can be an effective tool for putting climate change on governments' agendas. Should we encourage filing more cases in international courts? Are legally binding cases or advisory opinions and other forms of guidance from international organizations enough to let countries know there will be consequences for their actions (or inactions) if they do not comply with climate change obligations?

  • The European Court of Human Rights in hearing Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and 32 Other States draws attention to using international human rights courts as an avenue to change climate change policies. What is the link between climate change and human rights, such as the right to life, the right to health, the right to food, and the right to property? Should we encourage filing more cases in human rights courts?

The Symposium is co-sponsored by the New York State Bar Association International Section and by St. John's Center for International and Comparative Law and International Law Students Association.

Symposium Agenda

Breakfast & Registration

9:00 to 9:30 a.m. 
Second Floor

Opening Remarks

9:30 to 9:45 a.m. 
Belson Moot Court Room, Second Floor

Alyssa Tolentino, Editor-in-Chief, New York International Law Review

Panel I: Domestic Climate Policy & Litigation

9:45 to 11:15 a.m.
Belson Moot Court Room, Second Floor

This panel will highlight the critical role of robust legal frameworks in achieving the 1.5°C limit of the Paris Agreement. Domestically, this could include implementing policies like carbon pricing, renewable energy mandates, and eliminating fossil fuel subsidies. Simultaneously, ensuring climate justice requires inclusive policymaking that empowers marginalized communities disproportionately affected by climate change and actively protects them from its negative impacts.

Moderator: Margaret E. (Peggy) McGuinness, Professor; Co-Director, Center of International and Comparative Law, St. John’s Law


  • Rebecca Bratspies, Professor; Director, Center for Urban Environmental Reform, CUNY School of Law
  • Christopher Dekki, Manager, Global Climate Cooperation, Environmental Defense Fund
  • Paolo Galizzi (remote), Clinical Professor of Law; Director, Sustainable Development Legal Initiative and Corporate and Social Responsibility Program, Leitner Center for International Law and Justice, Fordham University School of Law
  • Ulysses Smith, ESG Senior Advisor, Debevoise & Plimpton


11:15 to 11:30 a.m. 

Panel II: International Climate Policy & Litigation

11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. 
Belson Moot Court Room, Second Floor

This panel will discuss international law and policy responses to climate change at the intersection of human rights. Furthermore, cases linking climate change to human rights to life and health are rising, raising the possibility of human rights courts becoming a significant mechanism to safeguard our communities.

Moderator: Christopher J. Borgen, Professor; Co-Director, Center of International and Comparative Law, St. John’s Law


  • Dr. Vivek Bhatt, Interdisciplinary Fellow, University of Aberdeen School of Law
  • Malcolm Dalesa, Climate Attaché, Vanatu Permanent Mission to the United Nations
  • Dr. Maria Antonia Tigre, Director, Global Climate Change Litigation, Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, Columbia School of Law
  • Dr. Catherine Tinker (remote), Fulbright U.S. Scholar Brazil 2024, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul Law School; President, The Tinker Institute on International Law and Organizations

Lunch & Keynote Remarks

1:00 to 2:30 p.m. 
Private Dining Room, Ground Floor

Keynote Speaker: Kathleen Schmid, Deputy Executive Director, NYC Mayor’s Office of Climate & Environmental Justice

About the New York International Law Review

The New York International Law Review (NYILR) publishes scholarly articles and student and practitioner notes about international law and cross-border practice. NYILR is published jointly by, and operated as a close partnership between, St. John’s University School of Law and the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) International Section. NYILR works to support the shared mission of the NYSBA International Section to support the rule of law globally by advancing education about the global practice of law among scholars, practitioners, and students in New York and around the globe.


To learn more about the New York International Law Review's 2024 Symposium, please email [email protected]

Symposium Speaker Bios

Rebecca Bratspies

An internationally recognized expert on environmental law, Professor Rebecca Bratspies has written scores of law review articles, op-eds, and other publications. Her most recent book is Environmental Justice: Law Policy and Regulation. She serves as an appointed member of New York City’s Environmental Justice Advisory Panel, and of EPA’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee. She is a member-scholar with the Center for Progressive Reform, a core member of the Global Network for the Study of Human Rights and the Environment, and an editorial board member of the International Journal of Law in Context. She is a past member of the ABA Standing Committee on Environmental Law, past president of the AALS Section on the Environment, and a former advisor to the Consultative Group on Agricultural Research. Her environmentally-themed comic books Mayah’s Lot and Bina’s Plant brings environmental literacy to a new generation of environmental leaders.

Christopher Dekki 

Christopher Dekki is a dedicated global policy advocate and strategist with 10 years of experience with various United Nations entities on sustainable development, climate change and economic and social affairs. Mr. Dekki engages with a wide multi-stakeholder base, and shapes intergovernmental spaces at international, regional and local levels. Before joining the Environmental Defense Fund as the Manager of the Global Climate Cooperation, Mr. Dekki was the Director of Global Advocacy and Engagement at the SLOCAT Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport, playing an official role as focal point for transport sector engagement in the UNFCCC. While in that role, Mr. Dekki was seconded to the UNFCCC COP28 Presidency in the UAE to oversee all matters related to transport policy and programming for the most recent UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai. Finally, Mr. Dekki is an adjunct professor of political science at St. Joseph's University in Brooklyn and CUNY Baruch.

Paolo Galizzi 

Paolo Galizzi is Clinical Professor of Law and Founder of the Sustainable Development Legal Initiative (SDLI) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School. He joined Fordham from Imperial College, University of London, and previously held academic positions at Universities of Nottingham, Verona, and Milan. At the Leitner Center, Professor Galizzi directs the international development clinic, as well as a new clinic on corporate social responsibility that he began in 2012. Professor Galizzi’s research interests lie in international environmental law, human rights and the law of sustainable development, and he has published extensively in all these areas.  He has also directed numerous legal research and capacity building projects in partnership with diverse public and private stakeholders in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Ulysses Smith

Ulysses Smith has an impressive track record at the intersection of sustainability, governance, rule of law, anti-corruption and human rights. His experience includes advising major multinationals, not-for profit organizations, governments and multilateral institutions on a range of sustainability and governance issues in more than 20 countries on six continents. In 2016, Mr. Smith was honored by the UN Global Compact as one of ten Global Sustainable Development Goals Pioneers for his work on SDG 16. He is currently a member of the UN Global Compact’s Expert Network, focused on sustainability and governance, and is also the former chair of New York City Bar Association’s United Nations Committee as well as the founder and chair of the New York City Bar Association’s Task Force on Good Governance in the Secretary-General Selection.

Dr. Vivek Bhatt

Dr. Vivek Bhatt holds a PhD in Law from the University of Edinburgh, an MSc in Political Theory (with Distinction) from the London School of Economics, and an LLM in International Law from the University of Sydney. Mr. Bhatt’s primary research interests are in international human rights law, migration, counterterrorism, and violent conflict, and his research in these areas draws heavily upon poststructuralist, postcolonial, and TWAIL perspectives. Mr. Bhatt has published his work in leading international journals including the Journal of Human Rights Practice and in edited volumes published by Oxford University Press and Hart. He is a Contributing Editor for Opinio Juris, the world's most widely read international law blog, and a Research Fellow at the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM), Utrecht University. 

Malcolm Dalesa

Malcolm Dalesa is an environmental and disaster recovery specialist with over 10 years of experience in environmental health work. He has spent the last 7 years working on climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction in the Pacific, including being involved and overseeing the development of Vanuatu's national climate change and Disaster Risk Reduction policy. Mr. Dalesa specializes in waste management, pollution control, food safety, environmental impact and risk assessment, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. 

Dr. Maria Antonia Tigre

Dr. Maria Antonia Tigre is a leading expert in the field of climate change law and climate litigation. She co-heads the Sabin Center and the Global Network for Human Rights and the Environment (GNHRE)'s project on Climate Litigation in the Global South. Previously, Dr. Maria Antonia served as Senior Attorney at the Environment Program of the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice where she provided pro bono legal services to NGOs worldwide, focusing on issues related to protected areas and the intersection of human rights and the environment. As a member of the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law, Dr. Tigre actively contributes to developing and advancing environmental legal frameworks. She has authored numerous publications on regional and international environmental law, with a specific focus on environmental rights, the evolution of international environmental law, and climate litigation. 

Dr. Catherine Tinker

Dr. Catherine Tinker has published widely in her field of expertise in international environmental law, sustainable development, and international law and organizations. She is the founder and president of the Tinker Institute on International Law and Organizations, an NGO accredited to ECOSOC at the United Nations, and regularly participates in summits, preparatory committees and working groups on sustainable development and international law at the UN. Dr. Tinker serves on the IUCN's World Council on Environmental Law (WCEL), based in Switzerland, as an expert. She has received foundation grants throughout her career for her work as a researcher and teacher, and was honored with the 2016 National Conservation Award from the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution in recognition of her lifetime contributions to environmental education and international environmental advocacy.

Kathleen Schmid

Before completing her law degree at New York University, Kathleen Schmid was the legislative policy analyst of the New York City Council Committees on Waterfronts and on Transportation. After graduating from law school, she clerked for U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael H. Dolinger in the Southern District of New York. Kathleen also served as the Environmental Health, and Safety Manager for WeRecycle!, an electronics recycling company, and in 2003 founded the Newtown Creek Alliance, which she continued to direct until 2012. Now at the NYC Mayor’s Office, Ms. Schmid coordinates with multiple City agencies, working towards transitioning the City to renewable energy and decarbonizing City assets and operations.