The Global Just Recovery Gathering, was held n the 9th-11th April 2021; a 3-day online event full of fun and effective training sessions, amazing activists, leaders, and artists that energized us and found ways to design a new path for a better future for all.
As part of the gathering, The Legal Empowerment Network hosted a roundtable discussion on 9th April at 10:15am - 11:15am GMT on Legal Empowerment as a Path to Climate Justice. The session aimed to discuss legal empowerment as a way of building power among people facing environmental harm organize within their communities, protect their lands, and, ultimately, transform systems for environmental governance.
On the panel we had @marlonmanuel and @AimeeOngeso as our very able moderators, joined by @eleanorthompson _ Deputy Director Namati Sierra Leone, Grizelda “Gerthie” Mayo-Anda _ Executive Director, Environmental Legal Assistance Center, Inc. (ELAC), Philippines and @burdiles Directora de Proyetos, FIMA, Chile.
Special thanks to everyone who joined us as we helped design a new path towards a better future for all as we advocate for climate justice.
Here are three key pointers from our discussion. Feel free to watch the entire video here.
1: Legal Empowerment is strategically valuable to climate justice efforts.
Legal Empowerment cultivates community-led environmental stewardship. Since communities find these efforts relevant to them, they take ownership over efforts to protect the environment and the sustainability of these efforts are more likely to last if the community takes lead. Communities can then, by themselves, formulate by-laws to ensure that these areas are protected, first by them, then any external investors.
Legal Empowerment is not only about enhancing participation of communities, but also about accountability by governments and corporate entities. For example in Sierra Leone, are seeing cases where communities are holding their government accountable to providing information about the effects of climate change, ensuring there’s public participation in addressing climate change and its effects, and also in the implementation of mitigation strategies that the government had committed to.
Laws are only as good as their implementation. By incorporating legal empowerment in climate justice issues, we democratize access to law and institutions; bearing in mind that legal language is not very inclusive to local communities. Communities are then equipped with tools that they can use on their own, thus reducing dependence on lawyers and in turn balancing the strong asymmetries of power that we currently live in.
It is important to look at the sustainability of community by-laws even given the fact that governments change every few years. Community leaders and paralegals should always involve younger generations since climate change is also intergenerational.
2: Legal Empowerment work is multidisciplinary. It is not just the work of lawyers and paralegals.
Legal empowerment work correlates with many efforts aimed at protecting the environment. In Palawan, communities are aware of the laws meant to protect their environment, but there is a need to simplify the legal terms and the implementation concepts. The ELAC team, under Gertie’s leadership, works to ensure that community requests for training about pollution, environmental law and how to document violations are met.
In the 25 years of doing this work, they’ve found themselves working with scientists to break down scientific terms in order to simplify pollution and climate change, digital media experts to train the foot soldiers on how to whistle blow via social media, and have a good rapport with law enforcers to ensure security of the protected areas. They have even worked with trade unions! For them, their wins in advocacy work, litigation, linkage building and adaptation of science wouldn’t exist if they hadn’t collaborated with the masters of these various fields.
In Sierra Leone, Namati works with community based paralegals, as lawyers, as legal empowerment advocates, to help communities know, use and shape the laws related to their land rights and shape their environments. They provide legal education and work with said communities to set up their own land governance structures by breaking down complicated land leases, ensuring that community concerns are included in environmental protections and that the community members can seek redress in environmental injustices by connecting communities to the formal legal system if needed.
This community paralegal aptitude comes from continuous training by people from different professions like lawyers and scientists. The community paralegals usually have local knowledge of said communities because most times they serve their own communities.
In Chile, FIMA, carries out environmental litigation, education, advocacy and research and legal empowerment. They work on cases that arise mainly from environmental conflict related to extractive industries such as large scale mining. They work with indigenous and local communities and civil society organizations by training them to use environmental and human rights law building their capacity to solve these problems and defend their rights. One of their biggest strategies is collective action.
3: Grassroots justice work contributes to changes in laws and policies that work to conserve biodiversity and protect the environment.
In 2019, after 8 years of putting in the work, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean Islands signed a life-saving game changer for human rights and environmental defenders. The Escazu Agreement is the first world-wide treaty that addresses the protection of environmental defenders and hopes to change the way in which people access the courts and solve environmental conflicts in Latin America, with greater democracy.
It is important to note that for the agreement to be adopted, thousands of indigenous people, environmental defenders, and young people, were involved. Not forgetting the active participation of human rights defenders who took the time to break down what access to information and access to participation was, in a language that was easily understandable by the public.
In Sierra Leone, Eleanor and the rest of the Namati team, have taken the data driven approach. They used the data from working with grassroots communities and paralegals to determine engagement with investors and how issues related to land and environment are resolved. This data was crucial in pushing for the adoption of the National Land policy in 2015. The policy is centered on community and land rights holders really getting the full benefit of their land and getting laws to protect them since there was a huge imbalance in the process of negotiating land deals. They are currently setting up of a fund that can support legal service provision.
In Palawan, civil society organizations are looking at how to harmonize action plans in the protected areas and ensure implementation of the laws supposed to protect these areas. The Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) for Palawan is a landmark legislation that seeks to provide a policy framework for the sustainable development of Palawan. SEP is a strategy that prescribes specific usage for each designated zone from continuing issues such as mining, irresponsible infrastructural development and illegal waste disposal. ELAC works with foot patrols, also known as citizen watchdogs, who collaborate with police officers to ensure that the plan is implemented and that these areas remain protected.
ELAC also ensures that the community leaders they work with are not only capable, but that they have second and third liners; thus making sure that legal empowerment initiatives are also intergenerational.
We would love to have your views:
We are beginning to see and understand the importance of legal empowerment in climate/environmental justice advocacy. In your view,
- How could legal empowerment be integrated into global climate discussions more effectively? E.g. in COP.
- Could increased financing for legal empowerment efforts benefit the climate movement?
Please comment below.