When five law students and professor Denise Antolini from the University of Hawaii at Manoa huddled around a laptop and clicked on a “submit” button in February, it was a landmark moment.
That click, simple as it might sound, represented all of their efforts to promote collective action in the conservation world.
“It was a milestone,” said Antolini, associate dean of the William S. Richardson School of Law. “A very exciting, giddy moment.”
They had been hard at work the past year, brainstorming, reaching out to the public and fine-tuning seven motions to be introduced at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress to be held Sept. 1-10 in Honolulu. The congress is expected to draw more than 8,000 delegates from around the globe and is being held in the United States for the first time.
This year’s theme is “Planet at the Crossroads.”
All seven motions — pushing for action on marine debris, invasive species, environmental tribunals and other topics — were accepted for consideration, an accomplishment in itself, and were among the 100 or so proposals discussed online among IUCN members in May and June. Online voting to advance the motions takes place in August.
Antolini said she’s cautiously optimistic her program’s motions will be part of a package of proposals to be formally adopted by the Members’ Assembly when the congress meets at the Hawai‘i Convention Center in September.
Motions, when adopted, symbolize consensus and commitment from more than 100 nations and are precursors to international treaties, according to the Hawaii law professor.
“The international law process is highly collaborative,” she said. “What we’re doing here is the foundation for what will eventually be a treaty or convention.”
Antolini attended a World Conservation Congress in Bangkok as an observer in 2004. She said she was amazed by what she called “the world’s green parliament.” On one side of a huge room, for example, nongovernmental organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund debated a motion with nation states on the other side.
When she learned Hawaii would host the next congress, Antolini was inspired to create a hands-on course focused on drafting motions to introduce to the IUCN in September.
“So I thought, I need a team of bright, energetic, motivated law school students who would engage in that process,” she said.
Five — Stephanie Batzer, 48, Claire Colegrove, 28, Emily Gaskin, 32, Jay Parasco, 33, and Tim Vandeveer, 39 — were accepted into Antolini’s spring semester IUCN Motions Workshop. Batzer has since graduated but will continue to participate as a volunteer as she prepares for the bar exam. An incoming student, Christina Lizzi, joined the group this summer.
The law school’s Environmental Law Program applied for and was formally accepted as a member of the IUCN in October, with full voting rights. It is one of 13 full and affiliate members from Hawaii. Others include Lyon Arboretum, the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i and the Polynesian Voyaging Society.
After extensive research and contact with local nonprofit conservation groups, the law students narrowed the list down to seven motions relevant to Hawaii and the Pacific. Among them are motions to prevent the spread of invasive species via biofouling (by being attached to commercial vessels traversing the oceans); the development of a Pacific region climate resiliency action plan; and affirmation of the role of indigenous cultures in global conservation efforts.
The students will monitor the motions over the summer and attend the congress in September.
A motion promoting regional approaches to tackling marine debris is considered the “rock star” of the group, according to the students. The government of Australia offered a similar motion, and an IUCN facilitator merged both so that the Hawaii law students found themselves collaborating with the Australian government.
Marine debris was a topic the students chose early on, easily identifiable as a top priority for Hawaii. An aerial state survey recently reported that the islands’ shorelines are full of mostly small, broken-down pieces of plastic, with the east-facing shores of Niihau, Oahu’s northern tip at Kahuku and Kamilo Point on Hawaii island’s southeast shore some of the most affected areas.
“Hawaii has been at the forefront of addressing the issue of marine debris,” said Gaskin, who works as a policy specialist for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
Since 2010 the state has been addressing the problem through the Hawai‘i Marine Debris Action Plan, a comprehensive framework to reduce the ecological, health and economic impacts of marine debris in the state by 2020. It has been updated every two years.
The students have firsthand experience with marine debris. During a class field trip to Kahuku in the fall, Vandeveer and a few other students found a Hawaiian sea turtle entangled in a fishing net. They went into the ocean to disentangle it and called the proper authorities to report it.
Batzer, a diver, recalled a trip to Midway Atoll in 2010 in which she and her husband witnessed Laysan albatrosses feeding their chicks pieces of plastic every day. She organizes regular cleanups at Makaha and Makua beaches.
The IUCN, founded in 1948 as the world’s first global environmental organization, has more than 1,300 state and nongovernmental organization members. It has official-observer status at the United Nations General Assembly, meaning it can directly address members there and influence policy.
Past IUCN Congress motions and resulting resolutions have been key to developing landmark treaties such as the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and the Convention on Biological Diversity.
“In four years, when the IUCN Congress is held somewhere else, we’re still going to be members,” Antolini said. “We’re still going to be engaged.”
Seven motions were introduced by the University of Hawaii’s Environmental Law Program. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress convenes Sept. 1-10 at the Hawai‘i Convention Center.
Motion 051: International biofouling
Calls for cooperation among members to share best practices to prevent the introduction of invasive species through biofouling (the spread of invasive species attached to commercial vessels traversing the oceans)
Motion 052: Marine debris
Calls for developing practical solutions to prevent, reduce and manage marine debris globally
Motion 060: Pacific region climate resiliency action plan
Calls upon the Pacific region to develop a climate resiliency action plan as a contribution to the implementation of the COP21 Paris Agreement; also urges members in the Pacific islands to conserve the oceans, seas and marine resources
Motion 071: Community-based natural resource management
Calls for the IUCN to recognize and promote community-based natural resource management, including the support of community-based subsistence fishing practices
Motion 072: Aloha+ Challenge
Calls for the IUCN to incorporate local values, cultures and contexts for the implementation of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals
Motion 083: Affirmation of the role of indigenous cultures in global conservation efforts
Calls upon the IUCN, its director general and council to strongly affirm the value of indigenous peoples’ approaches and knowledge systems in helping to address the challenges facing global ecosystems
Motion 085: Environmental courts and tribunals
Recommends that the director general implement a framework for creating environmental courts and tribunals that can be useful in different legal cultures and political situations (Hawaii’s Environmental Court was established in 2015.)
Hawaii residents who would like to view or discuss the motions may email ELPIUCN@gmail.com.