Virtual Conference Highlights
Authored by Liz Plascencia (MEM Candidate, Class of 2022)
As a first-year Master of Environmental Management (MEM) candidate at the Yale School of Environment (YSE) in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic – it’s safe to say that this has been an incredibly unique semester. From virtual community building events, online trivia parties, and more, but I’m happy to share that our community is both creative and resilient.
YSE has been known to host internationally renowned leaders in the environmental field in the form of speaker series, panels, and conferences, and this semester was no different. If anything, we have been able to host more folks virtually by extending the invite to a wide range of individuals who may not have gotten the opportunity to visit us here in New Haven. Instead, we all safety tuned in at home to watch experts in the field walk us through two unique conferences this semester. Thankfully, I was able to volunteer and participate in both the Oceans and Climate Conference and the Global Environmental Justice Conference.
The Oceans and Climate Conference was the first of its kind at YSE and worked towards fulfilling the curriculum gap between the ocean and climate nexus. It was an entirely virtual conference that went live on Friday, October 23, 2020 from 11:00 am – 3:30 pm EST. This entirely student-led conference aimed to bring together students, practitioners, and faculty to collectively explore the links, trade-offs, and tensions at the nexus of climate change, oceans, and coastal ecosystems.
If you missed the live event, please feel free to tune into the recorded version to watch our rich list of panelists and student leaders. You might even spot me in the Marine Plastics and Petrochemicals panel, where I was able to invite a dear friend and colleague from my recent work on marine debris clean-up, outreach, and education on O’ahu, Hawai’i!
Moreover, the Global Environmental Justice Conference just happened this past weekend and I am still buzzing from the momentum! This year’s Global Environmental Justice Conference was supported by The Graciela Chichilnisky Environmental Fund in Honor of Natasha Chichilnisky-Heal, and focused on the difficulty of integrating justice as a priority in domestic and international institutions.
The Global Environmental Justice Conference was hosted entirely online and went live from Saturday, November 14-15, 2020. The title of this year’s conference was Negotiating Institutional Transformation: International and Comparative Approaches to Justice in Environmental Protection. The conference featured leaders from the global south as well as experts from a variety of disciplines and included jurists, legal scholars, diplomats, economists, and activists.
I’d like to highlight my favorite panel for you all called Rights and Responsibilities in Relation to the Natural World; Reframing conceptions of justice. In this panel, we heard from both David Cordeo-Heredia, Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Human Rights Centre of the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE), and Catherine Iorns, Professor of Law, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
First, Professor Cordeo-Heredia set the stage by sharing the fundamental differences between human rights and the rights of nature. He outlined how adopting the sentiment of “a human right to a healthy environment” was a massive step in the right direction, but how it is largely anthropocentric and lacks the inherent value that nature has with or without human interaction. He followed this by stating that a human’s right to a healthy environment is rooted in a capitalistic society that looks to protect nature only when it is related to the rights of a person or a group. He went on to share three primary examples from Ecuador: Yasuni ITT Case, Coca River Case, and “Los Cedros” Forest Case. In each example, Professor Cordeo-Heredia weaved in and out of the human rights and rights of nature narratives.
Professor Iros wrapped up the presentation by sharing the New Zealand perspective on the rights of nature and humans. Her talk was called Nature as an Ancestor: Legal Personality for Nature in Aotearoa New Zealand. She shared a unique perspective from the longest navigable river on the North Island of New Zealand called Whanganui. In 2012, the local government recognized the Whanganui River as its own legal entity standing in its own right.
This work was rooted in three key points: First, this work started as a human rights issue that worked to restore justice to the indigenous Maori population who regarded this body of water as a living ancestor. Second, the process abided by the Kaitiakitanga or guardianship of the river as adopted by the Maori elders. And finally, this process changed the status and mindset of humans in the environment by establishing the river as its own entity. Overall, Professor Iros shared a striking example on how environmental justice can work to uplift and implement indigenous justice by upholding indigenous cosmologies in law and establishing legal personalities for nature.
Check back here for the recorded Global EJ conference link soon. Until then, enjoy the rest of your fall semester and stay safe and healthy!