[OPINION] Momentum for Climate Justice

[OPINION] Momentum for Climate Justice

Read: [OPINION] Losses and damage caused by Typhoon Odette/Rai

The last decade has seen incredible growth in the global movement for climate justice, and with it, more and more spaces for environmental advocates to push for action on climate change. The creation of a loss and damage facility, as we highlighted in part 1 of this article, is one of these demands.

This is also evident in the continuation of the United Nations climate change conferences, the last held in Glasgow, Scotland in November. The Paris Agreement, a landmark international treaty and one of the key legal documents emerging from the annual climate change conferences, has already been adopted by 196 states around the world. Through the Paris Agreement, these 196 states have pledged to drastically reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This will absolutely require changes in legislation, businesses and lifestyles in all sectors of society, for which environmental lawyers and other environmental human rights defenders will play an important role.

Climate justice and human rights

Significantly, according to the 2020 Global Climate Litigation Report (“Litigation Report”) by the United Nations Environment Program and the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, recent years have also seen a rapid increase in the number of cases filed related to climate change, with the number of cases nearly doubling in just three years. In 2017, the Litigation Report counted 884 climate change cases pending in 24 countries. In 2020, this number has increased to 1,550 cases pending in 38 different countries.

On the other hand, it is also true that conservationists continue to face fierce resistance, especially in the Philippines. According to international human rights organization Global Witness, more than 227 land and environmental defenders were murdered in 2020, making 2020 the most dangerous year on record for environmental defenders . [Global Witness, Last Line of Defence (September 2021)]. Of this number, more than half of the murders took place in just three countries – Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines (id, p. 14). The Philippines ranks third in the world in terms of the number of environmental defenders killed in 2020, with a total of 29 killed (id, p. 11). From 2016 to 2020, a total of 166 land and environmental defenders have been killed in our country

Global Witness’ 2020 report also highlights that, as in previous years, a disproportionate number of attacks on land and environment defenders were committed against indigenous peoples. The report states that, despite the fact that indigenous peoples represent only 5% of the world’s population, they were victims of more than a third of all fatal attacks against environmental defenders in 2020. Among these – ci, what Global Witness described as “the most shocking The attack involved the mass murder of 9 Tumandok indigenous people and the arrest of 17 others during raids by the army and the police on the island of Panay , in the Philippines on December 30, 2020.

Moreover, the risks faced by conservationists go beyond documented killings. Environmental defenders are constantly threatened, physically and verbally attacked, harassed, red-labeled and criminalized.

For example, the child rights group Save Our Schools Network (“SOS”) has documented the increase in red-marking incidents against Lumad schools in Mindanao. These schools and the Lumad communities they serve have long been involved in lobbying for greater environmental protection of Mindanao’s natural resources, and environmental protection has been an important part of these schools’ curricula. According to SOS, between July 2016 and December 2019, more than 162 Lumad schools in Mindanao were either forcibly closed by the Philippine government or forced to close due to an increase in the number of targeted attacks against them by the forces. military and paramilitary. In 2020 and 2021, continued human rights violations have caused even more school closures. Currently, almost all 215 Lumad schools in Mindanao have ceased to operate.

The growing need for environmental defenders, as well as the persistent risks they face, lead to the same conclusion: we need more people to join the movement for climate justice. We need to encourage lawyers and law students to practice environmental law and build their capacity to do so. We must increase opportunities for communities in the Philippines to know their environmental rights and have meaningful access to climate and environmental justice. We need to build a larger and stronger network of leaders, experts, advocates and community members to advance the cause of environmental and climate justice.

Capacity Building for Climate Justice

It is in this context that a small pilot project for law schools, called the Climate Justice Capacity Initiative (“CJCI”) was recently launched. CJCI is a grassroots development strategy, which seeks to use law schools as a starting point to help build the capacity of environmental defenders in the Philippines. Essentially, the project will provide participating law students with training in environmental law and opportunities to provide paralegal assistance to lawyers and communities dealing with environmental and climate change issues.

CJCI’s first direct objective is to encourage an increase in the number of lawyers specializing in environmental and climate justice in the Philippines by developing the capacity of law schools to train students in environmental law and by providing more opportunities for students to familiarize themselves with the practice. Law students participating in CJCI will receive training in substantive, legal and governance topics on the environment and climate change, as well as training in legal and paralegal skills relevant to environmental advocacy. This theoretical training will be supplemented by possibilities of practical application. The idea is that participating law schools, through partnerships with environmental lawyers, groups and communities within their regions, expose their students to real environmental cases and find ways in which their students can provide paralegal assistance and training to communities in need. . Law schools may also choose to offer their students the opportunity to produce information and communication materials, to contribute to scientific and legal research on climate change and to participate in national and regional advocacy campaigns. the environment.

CJCI’s second direct goal is to foster connections between law schools and communities dealing with environmental and climate change issues. CJCI aims to empower and support the development of specialized environmental law clinics aimed at providing communities in need with legal support and training. By doing so, the project hopes to ultimately contribute to the empowerment of poor and marginalized communities and help them achieve their environmental rights.

CJCI is a collaboration between ClientEarth, Stichting Foundation for International Law for the Environment, Manila Observatory and a consortium of Ateneo law schools. The five schools participating in the project are: Ateneo de Manila in Metro Manila, Ateneo de Naga in Naga City, Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro, Ateneo de Davao in Davao City and Ateneo de Zamboanga in Zamboanga City. Being located in different parts of the Philippines, the schools will be able to tailor the field construction program to local challenges uniquely affecting communities in their respective regions. At the same time, the project provides a platform for these different schools to link their local issues to environmental and climate change issues affecting the entire Philippines.

CJCI is a pilot program that can be replicated in other law schools in the Philippines. In fact, we strongly encourage other law schools to consider adopting the project or developing a similar one. Certainly, the need for initiatives to encourage and protect our environmental defenders will only grow as the reality of climate change grows and our country prepares to face more environmental challenges. and climate change. – Rappler.com

Tony La Viña is the Associate Director of Climate Policy and International Relations at the Manila Observatory. He also teaches law and is a former dean of the Ateneo School of Government.

Joy Reyes and Vanessa Vergara are human rights and climate justice lawyers affiliated with the Manila Observatory.

Meggie Nolasco is the executive director of Salugpongan Schools and the PinoyMedia Center.

Elna M. Lemons