Climate Voices

September 27, 2017
By: Leigh Currie, Window Into COP23 Delegate

Meet Our COP23 Delegation: Leigh Currie

Leigh Currie is a member of Climate Generation’s Window Into COP23 program, a multi-sector delegation attending the United Nation Framework on Climate Change Convention’s 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP) in Bonn, Germany. Our delegates will observe sessions and interact with climate change policy negotiations across international leaders and stakeholders.

Currie is a Senior Staff Attorney at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and has served on the board of Climate Generation since 2010, most recently as Chair. Her legal experience includes practicing environmental law at a private law firm in Minneapolis, clerking for the honorable Jill Flaskamp Halbrooks at the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and teaching legal writing at her alma mater.

Currie graduated salutatorian from William Mitchell College of Law (now Mitchell Hamline School of Law), has a Masters of Science in Conservation Biology from the University of Minnesota, and has a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Science and Biology from Tufts University. She regularly appears at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to advocate for economic solutions to fight climate change.

How does climate change affect the legal sector?

I don’t think the legal community is necessarily affected by climate change in a fundamentally different way than other community sectors. What is different about the legal community, however, are the tools we have to engage in solutions to climate change. I went to law school and decided to work for a nonprofit environmental advocacy group so that I could use my law degree to engage with the third branch of government, the judicial branch, in order to reach environmental goals. Having a law degree means that I can push regulators to enforce laws in the way they were intended—in ways that maximize the protection of the public interest. And it means that my work is somewhat less influenced by the outcomes of elections, which can be comforting in times like these.

How can the legal sector contribute to climate change solutions and help us uphold our commitment to the Paris Agreement?

In my (potentially biased) opinion, the legal sector will be critical to continuing to implement climate change solutions and uphold the U.S. commitment to the Paris Agreement over the next few years. In the absence of any federal leadership on climate change, we must rely on, and enforce, the work that has already been done. For example, as the result of many years of work by the legal sector, we have a U.S. Supreme Court opinion saying that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that must be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan was an attempt to comply with this requirement, and represented the U.S. contribution to emission reductions under the Paris Agreement. The Trump Administration’s declaration that it will reconsider the Clean Power Plan and exit the Paris Agreement does not change this U.S. Supreme Court precedent. It will be up to the legal sector to figure out the next action that will turn this Supreme Court opinion into a climate change solution.

Why are you excited to attend COP23? What are you most looking forward to?

I am excited to attend COP23 to witness international negotiations firsthand. COP23 represents a chance for me to better understand how my work at a state level translates into global change. I often hear that the emissions reductions I’ve helped achieve in Minnesota through the regulatory process are insufficient to make a difference on a global scale, which can be disheartening. But after President Trump signaled a withdraw from the Paris Agreement, it is clear that only state-level work will allow the U.S. to meet its obligations under that agreement. In that sense, the state-level work I’m doing feels very important. But I think seeing it translated into international negotiations and understanding what states really need to do to make a difference globally will help influence and inspire my work when I return.

What change or progress do you hope comes from the conference, whether that’s personally or politically?

The current federal administration in the U.S. is moving backward on climate change. Personally, I’m hoping that attending this conference will affirm for me that other countries “get it” and that there is hope for finding real solutions before it’s too late. Politically, I hope the world puts pressure on the U.S. to get to a place where it is moving in the right direction again.

Where is your favorite place to be outdoors in Minnesota?

I feel like I should come up with something more original than the Boundary Waters (isn’t that every Minnesotan’s favorite place?), but it’s true. I started going up there every summer beginning when I was 12, and I’ve spent innumerable nights on trail in the BWCA ever since. I now get to go with my kids (10 and 13) and my husband, and we are all in our happy place while we’re there. I can’t wait until our next trip!

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