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Ecological Rights, Constitutionalism and Democracy

March 16, 2022 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

The Environment and Resources (ERRC) Research Cluster at the Balsillie School of International Affairs (BSIA) is pleased to host a virtual panel discussion on the intersection of ecological rights and democratic institutions.

The starting point for the discussion is the increasing attention to the development of environmental / ecological rights within domestic and international governance practices. One manifestation of this trend is entrenching substantive environmental rights in constitutional documents and increasing resort to rights-based litigation to require governments and private actors to address environmental harms. In countries where they have been adopted, such measures are correlated with stronger environmental laws, more participatory decision processes and smaller ecological footprints. Rights-based approaches may also provide an alternative avenue for action where recalcitrant governments  are slow to take steps in the face of mounting ecological threats. Yet, the move to establish a rights-oriented approach to environmental governance has profound democratic implications, as the potential effect of rights-based approaches is to constrain the ability of democratically elected governments to pursue certain policy pathways and to empower courts to play a significant role in shaping environmental and economic policies. This panel, featuring globally recognized legal experts in the field of environmental rights, will explore the challenges and opportunities that arise at the nexus of democracy and environmental rights.

The panel discussion will be followed by an opportunity for discussion and questions with audience members.


Randall S. Abate is the inaugural Rechnitz Family and Urban Coast Institute Endowed Chair in Marine and Environmental Law and Policy, and a Professor in the Department of Political Science and Sociology, at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey. He also serves as the Director of the Institute for Global Understanding at Monmouth, and teaches courses in domestic and international environmental law, climate justice, constitutional law, and animal law. Professor Abate has published six books—and more than thirty law journal articles and book chapters—on environmental and animal law topics, with a recent emphasis on climate change law and justice. He is the author of Climate Change and the Voiceless: Protecting Future Generations, Wildlife, and Natural Resources (Cambridge University Press, 2019).

John Knox is the Henry C. Lauerman Professor of International Law at Wake Forest University, in North Carolina, where he teaches and writes on human rights law, environmental law, and their relationship with one another. From 2012 to 2015, he served as the first United Nations Independent Expert, and from 2015 to 2018, as its first Special Rapporteur, on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. In that role, he submitted a series of reports to the UN Human Rights Council on the application of human rights law to environmental issues, including climate change and the conservation of biological diversity. In 2018, he concluded his mandate by presenting Framework Principles on Human Rights and the Environment to the United Nations, and by calling upon the UN General Assembly to recognize the human right to a healthy and sustainable environment.

Dayna Nadine Scott is Associate Professor & York Research Chair in Environmental Law & Justice in the Green Economy. Her research interests focus on contestation over extraction; exercises of Indigenous jurisdiction over lands and resources; the distribution of pollution burdens affecting marginalized communities and vulnerable populations; gender and environmental health; and the justice dimensions of the transition to a greener economy. Professor Scott is currently the co-Principal Investigator, with Professor Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark of the University of Victoria’s Center for Indigenous Research and Community-led Engagement (CIRCLE), of a project funded by the SSHRC New Frontiers in Research Fund called “Jurisdiction Back: Infrastructure Beyond Extractivism, which explores how the “just transition” to sustainable economies can be imagined and infrastructured to restore Indigenous jurisdiction, laws and governance systems.


March 16, 2022
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm
Event Category:


Balsillie School of International Affairs, 67 Erb Street West
Waterloo, ON Canada
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