He Tapuwae (footprints left on the land)
The 11th Colloquium of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Academy of Environmental Law (“Academy”) was held recently at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand. The Academy, established in 2003, is a network of over 500 environmental law academics from over 160 universities.
I fully agree with Trevor Daya-Winterbottom, chairman of the colloquium organising committee, in regarding the colloquium “as the premier international environmental law conference” as scholars from all over the world converged to share their perspectives, learnings and impressions on burning issues in the field of environmental law. There were 168 Academy members from 53 countries who participated in the Waikato Colloquium, the first to be convened at the beautiful, clean, green and heritage-rich New Zealand. It was also the first time that two member universities, the Te Piringa – Faculty of Law at the University of Waikato in New Zealand and the University of New England in Australia collaborated in organizing the important event.
“He Tapuwae (footprints left on the land): The Search for Environmental Justice” was the colloquium theme symbolizing “the human journey into new territory as we explore and develop our world” (http://iucnacademy2013.org.nz/). Topics focused on justice and the environment, indigenous justice and the environment, vulnerable communities and climate change and access to environmental justice. Issues related to the changing climate, indigenous and vulnerable communities, human rights and proposed solutions in mainstreaming sustainability and effective environmental law enforcement, development and education in the Anthropocene era were vigorously discussed. This columnist was most privileged to share our triumphs and struggles this side of the world through presentations in both plenary and panel sessions.
The colloquium also brought together not just the leading scholars but the green justices from various jurisdictions as well. It ended, as always, on a hopeful note and with the deepest sense of resolve and urgency among the participants to make environmental laws more effective and responsive to the pressing needs and challenges at the local, national, regional and international levels, for people, biodiversity and the planet.
Arriving in the Philippines, it was inspiring to know about the inaugural speech of newly installed Cebu Provincial Governor Hilario Davide III who committed to protect our degraded ecosystems and prioritize climate change and disaster management. Likewise as uplifting was the news that Tindak Sugbo advocates were able to present their plans for bike lanes in the city to the Cebu City Sangguniang Panlungsod’s Environment Committee chairperson, Councilor Nida Cabrera and City Traffic Operations Management executive director, lawyer Rafael Yap.
Tremendous initiatives were undertaken by the group on their own since April this year such as conducting bike runs and tours around cemeteries, government offices, public spaces and buildings and native food. The Movement for Livable Cebu and the Youth for Livable Cebu have likewise started the ball rolling for more bike racks in the city through donations from generous citizens. These developments should already propel fine tuning a blueprint for biking lanes and tours around the city and convince our political authorities to pave the way for the establishment of a safe and healthy road network for its citizens, which do not rely on the use of polluting fossil-fuels. I understand there will be a focus group discussion on July 9 on this subject.
I am hopeful that with the brewing partnership between the city and the determined citizens, safe bike lanes and bike racks will dominate the landscape soon.
Hopefully, with the program being replicated in other cities and municipalities, we will be breathing cleaner air, have more public parks and spaces, tree-lined and clean avenues and streets, and most important, become disciplined and responsible eco-stewards who are proud to show the world that Cebu is the sustainable place to be.
Finally, let us reflect on the values and principles that the Earth Charter has propounded for each one of us:
“We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.” (Preamble, Earth Charter)
May our footprints be as light as the indigenous peoples’ have been.
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