Recent, Ongoing & Upcoming Projects

ELI builds the capacity of judges across the globe to make better decisions on environmental cases.

The Climate Judiciary Project: Educating Judges on the Science Underpinning Arguments in Climate Cases

Regarding the judicial process in an increasing number of cases related to climate change, judges and other stakeholders have identified a need for information on basic climate science that they may use as background when called upon to decide such cases. This perceived need, certain to increase in the coming years, can be met through thoughtful and expert presentation of balanced educational materials on climate-science facts, concepts, and methods that bear on case deliberations in climate-related disputes. Such education must be without political tilt, intended as it is to separate fact from fiction wherever on the ideological spectrum such fiction may exist. The purpose is to benefit society as a whole by aiding objective science-informed decisionmaking and sound judicial process, and thus good governance.

Despite a tendency by judges to defer to the elected branches of government on “political” issues, the legal system is increasingly being called upon to consider disputes related to climate change, driven in part by the inaction of the other two branches of government. Plaintiffs are circling the system to assess opportunities and engaging it through growing numbers of lawsuits on a variety of grounds, while potential defendants are developing their defenses. Over the last few years, preliminary legal issues have dominated court proceedings. But as more suits are brought, important cases will inevitably turn on scientific and technical matters. As several sitting judges noted at the recent Global Symposium on “Judiciary and the Environment” convened in Washington, D.C., judicial education on basic, case-relevant science of climate change is sorely needed. A scientifically grounded judiciary is a missing, crucial element to administering justice in the context of climate change.

In this project, we are addressing this need with a program that is meant to be crucial, and not just useful, to judges who will be deciding these cases. In this ambition we are joined by judges with whom we have interacted who agree that ours is an essential undertaking. A series of pilot seminars began in early 2019, with sessions for federal and state judges having been conducted at Columbia University on June 28 and at George Washington University on July 12.

Colombia & Ecuador: Watershed Health & Biodiversity

In the Magdalena-Cauca watershed of Colombia and the Napo watershed of Ecuador, infrastructure, mining, and energy projects can pose serious threats to biodiversity. ELI is working to improve watershed health and biodiversity in Colombia and Ecuador by strengthening the judiciary´s knowledge and capacity to make informed decisions on environmental cases, ultimately leading to enhanced environmental protection in these two nations. Through training workshops and materials tailored to conservation issues in the target watersheds, judges will understand the interconnections between science, economics and the law, sustainable development, ecosystem services, and legal remedies and considerations. This three-year project, which ELI is doing in partnership with Fundepublico in Colombia and Centro Internacional de Investigaciones Sobre Ambiente y Territorio of the Universidad de los Hemisferios in Ecuador, also includes a robust “training-the-trainers” effort to lead to further education after the project is completed in 2019.

Indonesia: Sustainable Forests

ELI, in partnership with the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), conducted a judicial training project in Indonesia supported by the Swedish Postcode Foundation to help judges become a strong player in the fight against deforestation and the path toward sustainable development. ELI and the project team recently travelled to Pekanbaru, Indonesia, to convene a five-day workshop on economic valuation, restoration, and compensation of environmental damages, with 38 judges from different regions in the country as well as three Supreme Court Justices. The participants also attended a field trip to a peat ecosystem affected by fires, providing the judges a unique opportunity to observe the complex dynamics of ecosystem and ecosystem services damage and degradation and to conduct experiments illustrating the challenge in collecting scientific evidence in these cases, thereby setting the basis for future discussions on the enforcement of the precautionary principle and other key environmental law principles and rules.