The World Needs ELI at Its Creative Best

Thursday, February 17, 2022

This column is indeed my “closing statement.” This past January, I officially stepped down from my role as president to take up residence with my wife in Rome. I will continue working with the Institute from Europe on a part-time basis, primarily supporting ELI’s international portfolio. The balance of my time will be devoted to working with the consultancy Sustainability Frameworks.


Looking back over our last six-plus years, there is much to feel good about in what we have accomplished together.

We have grown ELI’s revenue base by about 50 percent, attracting a host of new donors and funders to the Institute’s rule of law and governance work. A pandemic that we feared might break us saw instead an increase in funding and productivity.

We have turned ELI’s recruitment processes for staff and the board decisively in the direction of diversity so that ELI reflects more fully the constituencies we serve.

We added to ELI’s appeal through our Emerging Leaders Initiative and the ELI WELL (Women in Environmental Law and Leadership) program.

We have modernized ELI’s knowledge-transfer platforms, digitizing our celebrated print publications, establishing and growing ELI’s podcast and blog offerings, and adding new virtual engagement vehicles for most of our programs, dramatically enlarging the reach of ELI content.

We have established new vehicles for business engagement and leadership, from our in-house EHS dialogue series, to our award-winning China International Business Dialogue on Environmental Governance — an interface that seeks to share the learning of high-performing multinational companies’ best regulatory practices with China’s regulators, with ELI brokering the conversation.

We added important new lanes on technology, from our Innovation Lab to our GreenTech initiative, shining a light on environmentally beneficial technologies, and the law and policy conditions needed for them to accelerate.

We have made ELI’s mark in the climate arena, from our development of a model climate law for developing countries; to our publication of the ground-breaking book Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization; to our Climate Judiciary Project, which seeks to bring basic climate science education to judges, here and around the world, who are encountering climate change questions in a widening array of cases.

We have made important strides in enhancing ELI’s contributions in the environmental justice arena, led by our board’s groundbreaking “Statement on Race and Environmental Justice,” and as reflected by our new pro bono platform for connecting members of the bar with EJ communities needing legal support.

And these are just the tip of a much bigger iceberg of contributions that included growth in ELI’s leadership in advancing environmental rule of law and environmental peacebuilding around the world; expansion of natural resources work with Indigenous Peoples, particularly in the Arctic region, and through our growing Ocean Program; deepening engagements with environmental justice communities and other local communities in the Gulf region, the Mississippi River basin, and elsewhere; our continued work building the capacity of state and local governments — and so much more.

So, looking back, there are many positives. But looking forward, we see a world increasingly on fire, both metaphorically and in actuality. The ideas of effective governance and rule of law — so central to the ELI mission and identity — are being put to the match in various ways. Politics are hotter — and more toxic — than ever, chronically on the verge of combusting or imploding. The fires of racial injustice are raising questions anew about the uneven distribution of environmental benefits and burdens, exacerbated by the overlay of a pandemic that reserves its worst for the disadvantaged among us.

And the Earth itself is heating up, with the costs of a changing climate mounting in the form of extreme weather events and prolonged drought, accelerating rates of species extinction, degradation of the marine environment as sea levels rise, and wildfires that are now often burning out of control.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then surely the world needs ELI at its creative best. And to be what the world needs of it, ELI and its new leader, Jordan Diamond, will continue to need you — your support, your ideas, and your presence.

Many thanks to all of you and ELI’s remarkable staff, executive team, and board for these years of support and successful collaboration. No resting on laurels, however. There is vitally important work yet to be done.

This blog originally appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of The Environmental Forum and is republished with permission.