Environmental restorative justice: A new justice framework for environmental harm

03 Jun to 04 Jun

Coordinators: Brunilda Pali (Leuven Institute of Criminology, KU Leuven, Belgium), Miranda Forsyth (The Australian National University, Australia ), Gemma Varona (Basque Institute of Criminology Donostia/San Sebastian, Basque Country)

Description of the meeting

The challenges of developing meaningful responses to environmental harm that stop harming the earth and its inhabitants -human and other-than human-, that repair and heal the devastating harms already made, and build different systems that respect ecosystems and the rights of future generations, have never been greater.

In such cases, law making and stronger sanctions form part of the response, as do the different regulatory responses, the imaginative campaigns for planetary stewardship of the environment, the movement to criminalize ecosystem destruction and initiatives to acknowledge the rights of nature and the duty of care for the environment.

Understanding better these different perspectives which are situated among institutions and concepts that evolve around law, rights, care, restoration, activism and regulation, in our workshop we aim to draw an Environmental Justice agenda that will embed restorative justice as a key response among these existing perspectives.

Restorative justice presents an opportunity to bridge the ineffectiveness of existing environmental responses and the pressing need to correct existing harmful practices and prevent future environmental damage. We use the term Environmental Restorative Justice to indicate both how an environmental agenda can contribute to restorative justice and how restorative justice can be used in the context of environmental harm.

In our workshop we acknowledge that environmental harms and injustices raise specific conceptual challenges that are not present, or that manifest differently, in the other domains where restorative justice has been used. We identify the following questions as important for future debate and theorizing:

  • How can we identify the victims of environmental harm, and who should have a voice in restorative processes?
  • Who can speak on behalf of future or past generations and of other-than-human (animals, plants, rivers, land, places) and what kind of expertise is required to speak adequately for the non-human?
  • What are the criteria by which judgements around repair and restoration are to be made?
  • Can irreversible and irreparable environmental degradation be healed and repaired, and if so, how?
  • How can we ensure that the ones that harm and damage the environment participate voluntarily in restorative processes?

Each question will require detailed scholarship and practical exploration.

Importantly, understanding the different existing environmental responses in various fields, ensures that restorative justice is viewed as a valued fresh approach that respects and builds upon the histories of success and failure experienced in these field. Decades worth of experienced and well-established voices have pursued the environmental protection agenda. Environmental restorative justice needs therefore to be understood within, and to find an appropriate niche alongside, existing initiatives for addressing environmental harms and inequalities. Environmental restorative justice must learn from the experiences of these other environmental protection approaches that have drawn upon and embraced restorative justice values.

In our workshop, we raise questions about how environmental restorative justice might redress the historical lack of concentration on the environment within the field of restorative justice itself, as well as how it might be viewed as a new possibility for scholars, practitioners, policymakers and concerned citizens in the fields of environmental regulation through creating a shared language and set of principles applicable to restoring existing environmental harm and preventing future harm. We seek to open a dialogue and debate about what form an agenda for environmental restorative justice may take in order to maximise its impact. To develop this agenda, we identify three main dimensions that need to be addressed:

Themes of the workshop:

1) Existing approaches to environmental harm

A central dimension in our workshop is paying attention to the lineages or intellectual traditions in environmental regulation scholarship that have significance for the development of environmental restorative justice. Emerging from varied social, ecological and economic contexts and pressures over the last five decades, lineages come from different disciplinary homes (law, conservation, regulation, environmental studies etc.) and focus on different actors as the protagonists of justice work. Acknowledging that each lineage contains depths, variance, contradictions and overlaps, we aim to highlight the key ideas they represent, in order to draw forth the lessons they provide and relevance for developing environmental restorative justice.

2) The potential and limits of environmental restorative justice

The second dimension is making environmental restorative justice as a framework both legible and accessible by providing a more precise understanding of what novel possibilities or different framing may be provided by environmental restorative justice. We argue that while good reasons often exist for embracing a broad and loose tradition of restorative justice as a dynamic ‘ethos’ that sustains its ‘transformative intellectual tradition’ in the particular context of environmental regulation, with its long traditions of participation and restorative values, there is benefit in being specific about what environmental restorative justice constitutes. To this end, we intend to identify fundamental attributes of environmental restorative justice that we argue to distinguish it from the other environmental approaches discussed in the workshop.

3) Drawing the contours of the environmental restorative justice agenda

The third dimension entails drawing a clear environmental restorative justice agenda for the future, both in terms of scholarship and practice. Which alliances should the restorative justice community build, which research topics are the most emergent ones, which explorations the most fertile ones? These are questions which the workshop aims to answer.

Our experience in Oñati

On the 3-4 June, thanks to IISL that created a smooth, efficient, yet highly convivial online atmosphere, the workshop on Environmental Restorative Justice (ERJ) was convened by Brunilda Pali (Leuven Institute of Criminology), Miranda Forsyth (Australian National University) and Gema Varona (Basque Institute of Criminology), hosting more than 40 participants from all continents. The workshop was a unique opportunity to get together and discuss one of the most challenging issues in today's society (environmental crime, harm, and conflicts) through the lens of restorative justice (RJ). The first dimension of the seminar was to identify existing approaches to environmental harm and to pay due attention to the lineages or traditions that could be significant for developing ERJ perspectives. The second dimension was drawing the limits and the potential of ERJ by discussing its conceptual roots and challenges and lessons offered by the application of concrete cases. The third dimension was steered towards drawing the contours of the ERJ agenda, both practically and conceptually, in other words which alliances to pursue as we move forward, which explorations are the most productive ones? During the seminar, participants saw a key role for RJ to play in a wide range of harms affecting the environment. They also identified a range of challenges, including the ways in which power can undermine or subvert restorative initiatives and the challenges of scale given the extent of so many environmental harms and the systems level at which many operate. A central theme was the need for success stories and examples to be made public and shared in ways that will inspire others, the need to generate awareness, find pathways, and stimulate motivation for action. In addition, participants challenged each other to consider not only the cognitive but also embodied experiences, not only the human but nature and animals and all who share our earth as well, and especially the need to engage with different knowledge systems.

For more information: 

Workshop Coordination Team

Avenida de la Universidad, 8
Apartado 28
20560 Oñati (Gipuzkoa) - Spain
T: +34 943 78... Ver teléfono
E: workshop@iisj.es