Conceptual Framework

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Project Objectives and Relevance

This project conceptualises the worldwide progressive transformation of human rights litigation into ecocentric litigation that, by triggering activist courts, aims at filling ecological governance gaps with the expectation to provide effective remedy to victims of transnational ecological harm. 

The project investigates several aspects:

  • The share of ecological conflicts that become lawsuits.

  • The greening of social litigation.

  • The challenges of this greening for:

    • The legal concept of attribution of liability in transnational lawsuits.

    • The access to effective remedy for victims of transnational ecological harms.

  • The effectiveness of this activism.

The objectives of this project are to analyse and conceptualise: 

  • The transformation of ecological conflicts into ecocentric lawsuits, who the main actors are (claimants, courts, defendants, interveners, victims, etc.), and whether alternative options such as operational-level grievances mechanisms (OLGM) are considered; 

  • How ecocentric networks operate, how they are greening human rights litigation, and the scope of ecocentric case law; 

  • The institutional capacity of ecocentric courts to rule on ecological lawsuits in a context of transnational operations of global value chains (GVCs) and the quality of their case law from a legal, economic and ecological perspective; 

  • The type of remedy these lawsuits are seeking and obtaining, i.e. whether the goal of filling ecological governance gaps has a waterfall effect (or not) on access to remedy for victims of ecological harm, who are not always the claimants.

This project is motivated by increasing lawsuits lodged in the public interest of protecting ecosystems, to fill the legal and governance gaps that obstruct the sustainable conservation of these ecosystems. The character and scope of these lawsuits is varied, depending on their level (local, international, transnational), involved actors, their objectives, and the ecological conflicts at stake (climate change, biopiracy, pollution, deforestation, carbon leakage, forced displacement, intergenerational justice, etc.) 

For the purposes of this project, ecocentric courts are the ones that render progressive judgments that directly or indirectly protect ecosystems by enforcing individual or collective environmental human rights, or by recognising the autonomous rights of ecosystems.

Research Questions

This project is guided by the following research questions:

  • RQ1: How do ecological conflicts become ecocentric lawsuits and judgments, and who are the actors?

  • RQ2: How do ecocentric networks operate, how is human rights litigation greening, and what is the scope of ecocentric case law?

  • RQ3: How can the institutional capacity of ecocentric courts to rule on transnational ecological lawsuits be assessed in a context of transnational operations of GVCs?

  • RQ4: How can ecocentric litigation aimed at filling ecological governance gaps have a waterfall effect (or not) on access to remedy for victims of ecological harm, who are not always the claimants?