UH Law School plays leadership role in preparing for global IUCN Congress in September

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Beverly Creamer, (808) 389-5736
Media Consultant, William S. Richardson School of Law
Posted: Aug 18, 2016

Environmental Law students gather to vote electronically on IUCN motions.
Environmental Law students gather to vote electronically on IUCN motions.

The William S. Richardson School of Law is taking a leading role for the University of Hawai‘i as the IUCN, or the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, opens its International Congress at the Hawaiʻi Convention Center September 1-10 to consider far-ranging global environmental concerns.

Planners are hoping President Barack Obama will address the September 1 opening session at the Neal Blaisdell Center, although his attendance is not confirmed.

In the IUCN’s nearly 70-year history, this is the first time the major international gathering has been held in the U.S.

Since the IUCN announced Honolulu as the Congress host, the UH Law School and its Environmental Law Program (ELP) have conducted programs and projects to engage UH law students – as well as students from five other American and international law schools – who are deeply involved in global environmental issues.

Actions by Congress will be key elements in two newly developed courses that incorporate “real time” attendance at the IUCN Congress by Richardson Law School students.

One course, taught by Professor Maxine Burkett, focuses on climate change during the IUCN Forum; the other, taught by Associate Law School Dean Denise Antolini, focuses on “motions” work during the IUCN Members Assembly.

“This is an historic moment in time for Hawai‘i and the Pacific,” said Antolini, who collaborated with ELP Director David Forman ’93 to develop these and other major programs undertaken by faculty and students. She called the role of students as fully engaged players in this Conservation Congress “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Under Antolini’s guidance, a “Motions class” launched three semesters ago began highlighting pressing environmental concerns in Hawai‘i and the Pacific, with students developing seven “motions” that will  bring these concerns to the attention of the Congress.

(At 5 p.m. during each weekday session of the Congress, UH law students will offer a five-minute overview through ThinkTech Hawai‘i of what happened that day. Go to #ELP_IUCN to participate in the discussion or ask questions. The daily summary will be posted on YouTube by ThinkTech.)

The seven motions developed include calls for: global action about marine debris, biofouling (bringing new marine organisms to Pacific waters), climate change, community-based natural resource management, sustainable growth, the importance of environmental courts, as well as an affirmation of the role of indigenous people and culture in conservation efforts.

This past weekend Antolini led her Motions class through five hours of discussion and online voting to cast the Environmental Law Program’s formal vote on all of the 86 motions submitted by IUCN members, and also to prepare for the live floor debate on 13 motions that are scheduled for full Assembly discussion.

All seven motions developed by students in the Motions class, in conjunction with Hawai‘i and Pacific agencies and individuals involved in environmental protection, were accepted to be among the 86 motions submitted globally for an electronic vote, a process by IUCN member states and organizations that is ongoing through August 17.

“This is an opportunity for us to set a global agenda for the environment,” noted second-year Evening Part Time student Tim Vandeveer '18. “We hope we have assisted the community in bringing important environmental matters before the Congress.”

Vandeveer, who is also the newly elected chair of the Hawai’i Democratic Party, said the students developed the seven Hawai‘i-Pacific motions by brainstorming issues they consider particularly important, then reaching out to local environmental groups and state agencies for their input. “We wanted to make sure we’re not just covering our own turf, but also the whole Pacific region,” said Vandeveer.

Emily Gaskin ’17, who led the effort to draft the marine debris motion, noted that the significance of this issue was heightened when the Richardson students’ motion was merged with a similar motion proposed by the Government of Australia. “We were honored to be placed on the same platform with Australia,” said Gaskin, “and have since formed a great working relationship with them to push this critical oceans issue forward at the Congress.”

Claire Colegrove ’17 added that the Congress offers “a unique opportunity to unite the nations of the Pacific region . . . to establish a regional Pacific climate action plan. We are already seeing signs of climate change.”

Michael Cain, representing Sam Lemmo of the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands, one of the Law School’s community partners in developing the Hawai‘i motions, echoed Colegrove during a Community Workshop at the Law School in April on the IUCN motions process.

“Pacific islands are on the forefront of climate change,” said Cain. “It’s going to impact us more than other areas. Hawai‘i would like to take the lead in developing a Pacific approach to form a model for the rest of the world.”

Cain said that the world will face more droughts, more storms, and many other environmental threats that can only be guessed at now. “The drive is to develop resilient communities that can confront changes even if they don’t know what they might be,” he said.

In addition to Antolini’s Motions class, Forman has brought together student moot court teams from Richardson and five other law schools to debate inter-generational climate justice issues. The Richardson students will be joined by students from partner law schools in the Philippines, Brazil, South Korea and France, plus Pace University/Haub School of Law in New York State. A "moot court" will be argued before a mock panel of the International Court of Justice, and students will discuss how to use international law to support positive binding actions by governments to address climate change.

The briefs will be presented first during a session with student speakers at the Hawai‘i Supreme Court on September 1. That session will be live-streamed as well as taped and edited and then presented during the full Congress on September 5. Student briefs will then be incorporated into ongoing legal work by international lawyers in support of a resolution that asks the UN General Assembly to refer the question formally to the International Court of Justice and to consider obligating states to address the climate crisis.

“This is a way to showcase our students as voices of future generations, and give them the opportunity to interact with peers around the world as well as IUCN members and other environmental experts,” said Forman.

ELP is a full voting member of the IUCN; Lyon Arboretum is the only other UH unit with IUCN membership. The UH Richardson Law School is also a member of the IUCN-licensed Academy of Environmental Law, and ELP faculty are members of the IUCN’s internal World Commission on Environmental Law.

During the Congress, ELP and Richardson Law faculty will also lead several discussions, called Workshops and Knowledge Cafes, as part of the IUCN Forum, which runs from September 1-5 and encompasses the first half of the Congress. Some of these discussions will center on inter-generational climate justice (featuring Professor Maxine Burkett), the motions developed by Hawai‘i students and community experts (led by Dean Antolini), and other sessions that focus on water rights (led by Professor Kapua Sproat.) Burkett’s real time course on climate change and the law, specifically referenced by actions at the Congress, will explore emerging international legal actions regarding climate change, as well as actions at the local and national levels.

Additionally the Law School will host a series of talks by environmental experts, called “IUCN at Richardson.” Speakers may include Ben Boer, Deputy Director of the World Commission on Environmental Law (and Professor of Law at Sydney) (August 30, 2016, 5:15 to 6:30 p.m.), and a group of “Early Career” Environmental Lawyers from around the world (September 2, 5 to 7 p.m.). These talks, to be finalized closer to the start of the Congress, will be free and open to the public.

Also free and open to the public will be discussions on September 5 on “Judges and Nature,” beginning at 11 a.m. with Law School faculty, including Dean Avi Soifer and Associate Dean Antolini. These discussions will be held at the Hawai‘i-Pacific Pavilion at the Congress, and then continued at the Hawai‘i Supreme Court that afternoon.

As the Richardson law students met with their community partners in developing the Hawai‘i and Pacific-focused motions over the past year, they began to recognize that the Congress also offered an opportunity to reflect cultural values through motions that will come to the floor. “It’s an affirmation of the role of indigenous cultures in conservation efforts,” said Evening Part Time law student Jason Parasco ’18.

Added Antolini, “Our commitment continues after the Congress as well. Implementation of all the good and big ideas does not happen overnight; it takes a lot of hard collaborative work, and will involve our faculty and law students in cutting-edge global environmental law and policy issues for many years to come.”

For more information, visit: https://www.law.hawaii.edu/