Student Voice

Future-proofing sustainability in the law curriculum: resources for law students

The climate crisis is also a global inequality crisis. In tackling the interconnected issues and challenges of the climate crisis, the expertise of people with lived experiences must be recognised, and the most affected communities should be at ‘heart and start’ of sustainability efforts.

During the People’s Health Hearing in November last year, I participated as one of the witnesses and shared that the Philippines is hit by 20 tropical cyclones per year on average, and is ranked ninth among the countries most affected by extreme weather events according to the World Risk Index. I shared my personal story of the impacts of Typhoon Vamco on my community in 2020. The typhoon followed six other storms in less than six weeks, flooding thousands of homes in the Philippines, including my family’s, just weeks before Christmas. Together with Celestine AkpoBari from Nigeria and Goran Zangana from Iraq, our stories were featured in The National: ‘COP26: Stories from the frontline of the climate emergency.’

As a law student, there are numerous initiatives and opportunities to get involved in sustainability. I joined the delegation of students attended COP26 in Glasgow. We engaged in activism, worked with other student unions and climate campaigners, and called for concrete actions and accountability from world leaders. It is therefore crucial to maintain this momentum as the BristolSU strives to improve partnerships between students and staff across the University in order to ensure that sustainability is prioritised in both immediate and long-term plans.

Student-led opportunities

Looking for opportunities on the Bristol SU Volunteering and Careers Service Events pages have been excellent starting points for me. Bristol SU is also home to various student-led volunteering projects – some recent examples include reducing food waste, supporting refugees, community gardening, and fundraising to address the homelessness crisis in Bristol. During Volunteering Week last February, I was able to access hands-on opportunities to learn more about conservation in the award-winning Royal Fort Gardens, and in Splatts Abbey Wood, an ancient woodland northeast of Bristol.

Additionally, the Bristol Sustainability Network (BUST) is a student-led initiative that brings together students and societies who are passionate about sustainability, and provides a nurturing space for people to share ideas and get involved with campaigns, projects, and social events. On 30 March 2022, through a partnership between BUST, Bristol SU, and the University of Bristol Careers Service, the Sustainable Careers Spotlight presented an unmissable opportunity for both students and staff interested in exploring opportunities available in organizations and companies working on issues in environment, health, and sustainable development which are of worldwide concern today. The Environment Agency, Earth Love United Foundation, and The Good Food Institute were among the 14 employers who attended the successful and well-attended networking event.

Sustainability continues in the classroom

At the Law School, an important question that must be tackled is: ‘How can legal studies at the University of Bristol prepare Law Students to respond to changes in the near or long term future, particularly those involving the climate emergency, biodiversity loss, and the resulting social dimensions of these crises?’

The classroom is also an important space to start asking the difficult but absolutely necessary questions about the climate crisis and its consequences. For example, in my Law, Gender, and Sexuality class, we discussed the concept of social reproduction and how women’s daily activities are shaped by compounded crises, such as Covid-19 and the climate emergency, which are challenges mainstream economics fail to adequately address. For Health Inequalities, Law, and Society, we had an entire learning cycle devoted to the topic of ‘Intersectional Approaches to Food Injustice’ and critically discussed why hunger isn’t inevitable or unavoidable. The lectures and our interactive seminar with Dr Beth Kamunge-Kpodo encouraged us students to reflect on our understandings of how oppressive systems actively collude to harm and minoritise communities, especially communities of colour. In Law, Governance and Health, we closely examined a landmark law in Wales, the Future Generations Act 2015, that aims to improve economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being in accordance with the principle of sustainable development.

For students looking for dissertation inspiration, as well as potential career or postgraduate paths, I’ve found the book Legal Perspectives on Sustainability, which is available at the University Library, to be an outstanding resource on how sustainability discourses are pushing the boundaries of the law, and the other way around. This collective effort brings together academics from UoB Law School to critically examine sustainability in a variety of areas, including corporate governance, labour and trade, marine conservation, among others. Indeed, staff in the Law School are actively engaged in sustainability-related research. A new edited book, Sustainable Value Creation in the EU, co-edited by one of the Law School’s professors, is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press and explores the concept of sustainable value creation from different perspectives including company law, corporate governance, financial markets, and monetary policies.

Future-proofing current efforts

For longer-term planning around sustainability, the Law School has recently appointed a Climate Action Plan (CAP) coordinator, Dr. Alice Venn. Efforts are underway under Dr. Venn’s capable direction to gather a technical working group of students and staff to co-develop a participatory and inclusive CAP plan.

It would also be crucial to see the Law School’s education action plan, which is a ‘living document’ that records the school’s educational priorities and actions, assessed and mapped against the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. This information should be readily available and accessible, with various pathways available for students to participate and contribute to strengthening these plans further.

At the moment, I am looking forward to coordinating with students and staff to learn more about school-wide sustainability efforts, and to scale up and build on the existing initiatives. It is such an inspiration to see different people and groups coming together to push for inclusive and positive changes. I hope these collaborative partnerships for sustainability continue not just for this academic year, but in the many years to come.

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Patty Miranda is the Sustainability Champion (Law), and works with 10 other BristolSU Sustainability Champions across the university to catalyse the transition towards Education for Sustainable Development. She is a Master of Law (LL.M.) student in Health, Law, and Society, funded through Wellcome’s Humanities and Social Science Master’s Programme Award in conjunction with the University of Bristol Law School. Keep in touch on Twitter @pa3ciamiranda

Photo: Image of climate activists from all over the world in Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow. ‘We attended the Climate Strike as a group, marching through Glasgow to make our voices heard.’ Read more from the Bristol Student Union: https://www.bristolsu.org.uk/groups/bristol-su-sustainability-network/articles/updates-from-cop26 Photo Credit: Patty Miranda/Bristol Student Union

Acknowledgements: My heartfelt thanks to students and staff for sharing their valuable feedback, information, and time that helped develop this blog post: Prof. Chris Preist, Vartika Kakar, Carlos Shanka Boissy, Dr. Alice Venn, Dr. Margherita Pieraccini, Prof. John Coggon, Prof. Charlotte Villiers, Prof. Tonia Novitz, Dr. Beth Kamunge-Kpodo, Prof. Keith Syrett, Vanshika Agarwal, Omar Madhloom, Bristol Law Clinic Community Project (Lucy Harison and Amirah Azhar), and Bristol SU Sustainability Champions Cohort 2021-22: Florence Ingram (Civil Engineering – Faculty of Engineering); Patricia Miranda (Law – Faculty of Social Sciences and Law); Iolo Jones (Environmental Geosciences – Faculty of Sciences); Ellie White (Italian and Spanish – Faculty of Arts); Poppy Silk (Physics – School of Sciences); Phil Smith (Physics –School of Sciences); Vatsala Chauhan (Public Policy – Faculty of Social Sciences and Law); Sasha Mulvey (Sociology – SPAIS); Mehwish Kareem (Marketing – School of Management); Matthias Mitra (Medicine – School of Health Sciences); and Shandin Rickard-Hughes (Education (Policy and International Development) – School of Education).

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