Chayes Fellow Marissa Yu on working at the United Nations Environment Programme in Switzerland

Marissa Yu '17 at the Palais des Nations, the UN's Geneva headquarters.

Marissa Yu ’17 at the Palais des Nations, the UN’s Geneva headquarters.

This summer, I am interning with the UN Environment Programme’s Geneva-based Economics and Trade Branch. My main focus is on a paper concerning environmental provisions in trade and investment agreements.

I started the summer by scoping existing literature, by legal academics and by international organizations, to determine where UNEP can add value to negotiations surrounding legal text in trade and investment treaties. Because this workstream is still being developed, I was able to help determine the direction and content of this first stage of research. My team started with a survey of case law to determine some common challenges for environmental legislation in both WTO law and investor-state dispute settlement. Then, we compiled environment-related texts from trade and investment treaties that entered into force in the past three to four years, and highlighted ones that can potentially address the challenges we isolated in the case law. Examples include exceptions for environmental protection within indirect expropriation, the relationship of multilateral environmental agreement commitments to trade commitments, and implementation mechanisms for environmental commitments. A major part of the paper also examines variations among treaty language, and how each type of clause can make a legal impact on states’ abilities to perform environmental governance. In the end, we produced a 50 page report on recent trends in environmental commitments and presented our findings to UNEP’s Trade, Policy and Planning Unit.

I was also able to attend a conference at the WTO and meet with government missions and academics in order to consider these various perspectives, concerns, and goals while conducting my research. My internship has helped me learn more about international law and better understand the process behind multilateral cooperation to achieve development goals.