Navigating Climate Transformations
: Multiple Legality in the Paris Climate Regime

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis investigates how law participates in the transformation processes that are necessary to reach the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the most recently concluded international treaty on climate change. Drawing on original field data, it documents how multiple legal forms are brought into being and sustained, and how they intersect, in the context of the Paris climate regime. This approach leads to a shift in perspective: Rather than conceptualising climate change as a collective action problem, this thesis understands the climate crisis as a transformation challenge, that is, a problem which demands urgent and radical processes of change that move beyond the status quo and set new points of reference regarding what is perceived as possible, plausible and necessary. Moreover, instead of seeing law as abstract, monolithic, bounded and self-sufficient, this thesis develops an alternative account which is attuned to the multiple ways in which legal thinking can sense and make sense of law. To begin conceptualising this multiplicity, it proposes the notion of ‘climate legality’ as a working concept that allows to develop a nuanced account of how law becomes involved in transformation processes. Investigating the transformative logic of the global climate crisis response and analysing the multiple ways in which law is done and known, this thesis offers novel empirical and theoretical insights into the workings of the Paris climate regime as it enters its implementation phase.

Methodologically, this thesis adopts a case study research design. It focuses on three forms of climate legality: the Paris Agreement as the overarching legal framework that organises the global climate crisis response, as well as two transnational frameworks which seek to guide implementation activity in the banking and local administration constituencies. Moving between theoretical resources and empirical insights, it first analyses the technical legal knowledge practices and interactions between people, spaces and things that sustain these three forms of climate legality, before offering a theoretical account of how they relate to each other. On this basis, it draws inferences about their capacity to respond to the demands of climate transformations. The analysis shows that the three forms of climate legality currently fail to adequately respond to the temporality, the urge for change and the multi- actor, multi-level character of the transformation processes which are necessary to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement. In light of these insufficiencies, this thesis makes suggestions in what ways the capacity of climate legality to participate in the global climate crisis response could be strengthened. To do so, it adopts an exploratory ethos and asks how law could be re-imagined. Collapsing the divide between theoretical exploration and practical change, this thesis demonstrates why and how legal thinking ought to become part of the transformative project that lies within the global climate crisis response envisioned by the Paris Agreement.
Date of Award1 Apr 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMegan Bowman (Supervisor) & Davina Cooper (Supervisor)

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