Tribal Environmental Governance and Rights of Nature in the Context of the Climate Crisis

Organized by National Law University Meghalaya with the support of the IUCN/WCEL Rights of Nature Task Force.

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National Law University, Meghalaya – Inaugural Conference of the School of Sustainability and Law
5-6 April 2024, APJ Abdul Kalam Auditorium
Mayurbhanj Complex, Nongthymmai, Shillong 793014

The increasing severity of the climate crisis calls into question the measures that have been taken over the past fifty years to address the multiple environmental crises from the local to the global level. There has been a rapid increase in the number of regulatory measures taken to conserve environmental quality and to address pollution cause by developmental activities. These have had some positive impacts but on the whole the environmental polycrisis is worsening with every passing year. This failure to effectively address worsening crises is linked at least in part to the way in which law and policy engages with nature. Two elements stand out in this regard. First, despite a policy framing that speaks of integrating environment and development, the latter has remained a priority at the expense of the former. Second, the overwhelmingly anthropocentric framing of measures taken to protect the environment has ensured that nature is usually understood in relation to human needs.

This conference addresses ways to rethink environmental conservation interventions through the contribution of tribal environmental governance to the evolving discourse of rights of nature. It engages with the diverse ways in which local interventions have ensured forms of sustainability that have withstood the test of time and offer lessons for policy-makers in their attempts to find new ways to address the worsening environmental polycrisis.

Tribal environmental governance often gives priority to nature over human activities, something that is close to the ecocentricism that animates a lot of debates over rights of nature. It also emphasizes the need for human societies to use environmental resources in ways that respect the basic equilibriums in place.

This conference will bring together case studies of tribal environmental governance in different parts of the North-East and researchers working on rights of nature. This will provide a starting point for policy-makers from the local to the international levels to engage with the important lessons that tribal environmental governance has for environmental policy in the 2020s and beyond.

The Conference will focus in particular on the following dimensions:

  • Incorporating Tribal Ecological Knowledge : Contribution of tribal management of the environment towards climate resilience;
  • Framing a Rights of Nature Approach: Potential of harmonizing with nature and the rights of nature as alternative framing for new policies and laws to effectively address the climate crisis;
  • Developing Best Legal Practices: Lessons learnt from tribal governance in the North-East for the development of environmentally sound and socially equitable law and policy frameworks to tackle the climate crisis;
  • Operationalising Intergenerational Equity: Potential of education concerning the climate crisis, and specific contribution of tribal methods to foster long-term change, with a focus on children.

This two-day conference will include:

  • Plenary keynotes on each of the four framing concerns by national and international experts;
  • Parallel sessions including presentations by faculty members and researchers from Meghalaya, the North-East, and other parts of India;
  • Showcasing of climate-resilient environmental management and policy initiatives at the local level in Meghalaya and other North-Eastern states.