Legal Empowerment Network at COP27

“What do we want? Climate Justice! When do we want it? Now!”

This was our mantra throughout the two weeks of COP27, where members of the Legal Empowerment Network came together to share their collective demands. Together, we made clear that legal empowerment is a critical solution to the climate crisis.

We went to COP calling for justice to be better centered in climate policy - by requiring community consent for development, funding grassroots solutions, and protection for grassroots justice defenders.

It was exciting to see Network members showing how combining the power of law and organizing is a central way forward to achieve climate justice. Here are a few highlights of how their influence was felt across multiple spaces:

  • Climate Justice Pavilion: Many members were honored to participate in the first-ever Climate Justice Pavilion, where we heard of legal empowerment victories from individuals like Nonhle Mbuthuma, a community organizer with Natural Justice in South Africa who successfully mobilized the Amadiba people to stop Shell from exploring in their sacred waters, and @sonkitaconteh, the director of Namati’s Sierra Leone office who co-authored Sierra Leone’s groundbreaking laws that require community consent for new development projects. The pavilion was hosted by WeAct, the Bullard Center and the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice and created a space to highlight the different types of injustice we see amid the climate crisis, from black communities breathing air filled with poison by the fossil fuel industry in Louisiana to indigenous communities struggling to protect their forests in Peru.
  • Formal Negotiations: Network members were also pivotal in making justice central to the formal negotiations, including relentlessly (and successfully) pushing for impacted countries to receive financing for Loss and Damages. Bareesh Chowdhury from Bangladesh Environmental Law Association, @SokhnaDiKA from Natural Justice in Senegal and Ezio Cordella from FIMA in Chile were all closely involved in spurring their respective country’s participation. Though members had hoped for stronger policy commitments to protect grassroots environmental justice defenders, they convinced governments to include language about human rights and indigenous people in the Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) plan, which highlights protection for justice defenders, who are too often under threat.
  • Connecting with other movements: Network members lent their voices to bring attention to numerous movements that lie at the intersection between justice and climate change. From promoting the adoption of ecocide as an international crime (@bela) to advocating for locally-led solutions to food security (@emuswahili), Network members were central to providing solutions to the climate crisis.

After our time in Egypt, we know that there is still much work to be done. Though we heard many politicians talk about “locally-led” climate solutions, communities we work with are still struggling to access finance. While we heard strong rhetoric about protection for environmental rights defenders, little was done that would prevent attacks on activists, like the harassment and intimidation the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (@YLBHI) recently faced in Bali. And though we’re deeply encouraged by the passage of Sierra Leone’s new land laws, we know that in too many places, communities’ views are still an afterthought to development.

Despite these challenges, we leave COP hopeful, because we have seen the impact of empowered communities standing up for their future and building collective power. That’s why, over the next several months, we are redoubling our efforts to connect impacted communities with each other and to find ways for their voices to influence climate policy.

If you participated in COP in person or virtually, we’d love to hear more from you about your key-takeaways.

If you weren’t able to make it, you can still be part of promoting legal empowerment as a solution to the climate crisis:

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