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Communication and Inclusion at the World Environmental Law Congress

Thursday, June 16, 2016
Talia Fox

Talia Fox

Former Research Associate

From April 27-29, 2016, I had the opportunity to attend the World Environmental Law Congress in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with colleagues from the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (INECE) and ELI, including ELI’s president, Scott Fulton. Never having participated in an international gathering of this sort, I was struck by the scale of the event, which brought together over 400 environmental practitioners from 50 countries. Moreover, I was impressed by the various means of communication used at the Congress to make our conversations more accessible. I left the event convinced that the way we communicate—whether formal or familiar, institutionalized or improvised—must reflect the diversity and scope of individuals engaged in environmental problems and their solutions.

Technology played its part in facilitating communication, of course. When speakers could not be present physically, video streaming and voice call platforms were essential. Accurate and timely translation, transmitted via hundreds of wireless headsets, was crucial to the success of the Congress. The interpreters were tireless, both those officially employed by the Congress, as well as the polyglot participants who stepped in when we were short-staffed.

I participated in a pre-Congress session entitled the “Global Colloquium of Early Career Members.” I joined other young professionals in discussing the greatest barriers to addressing environmental challenges within existing legal frameworks. Our conversations reinforced the importance of public participation, social and racial justice, and gender equity. These principles emphasize the value of input from populations most vulnerable to the impacts of environmental degradation and climate change. We shared thoughts on how best to bridge gaps between the environmental movement and other political and social movements. We agreed that the field of environmental law cannot exist in isolation, precisely because social and environmental challenges are intertwined and increasingly global.

The highlight of the meeting was presenting recommendations from these discussions to the entire Congress at the final Plenary Session. We chose to present in multiple languages, and to give voice not just to one, but to a dozen representatives from the early career group. We scattered ourselves throughout the plenary room and divided up our remarks such that each sentence flowed from one to the next, spoken in a different part of the vast hall. The distinct voices connected across space, mirroring the very idea we were advocating: a more global, inclusive, and equitable approach to environmental problem-solving.

Talia FoxThe Congress’ leaders decided to incorporate our language into the event’s outcome documents not only because of our unique presentation format, but also because, as young and diverse participants, we bring an important perspective to environmental issues. I was excited and humbled to have my ideas considered among those of the more experienced Congress participants, who have paved the way for foundational environmental legislation and international cooperation around climate change (and, on top of it all, we were in the very room that the Rio+20 Conference was held). The experience solidified my commitment to effective, flexible, and creative communication as a way to ensure that the diverse voices both affected by and addressing environmental crises are heard.

Talia Fox has been a Research Associate with ELI since 2014. Beginning in the fall of 2016, she will pursue a Master of City planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with concentration in Environmental Policy and Planning.

All blog posts are the opinion of its author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of ELI the organization or its members.