Earth Rights Advocacy Clinic

LW.12825 / LW.12826
Professor César Rodriguez-Garavito
Professor Melina De Bona
Project Supervisors: Jacqueline Gallant and Melina De Bona
Open to 3L, 2L and LL.M. students
Maximum of 10 students

Year-long course
14 credits*
No prerequisites or co-requisites.


The Earth Rights Advocacy Clinic (ERA) combines the tools and tactics of international environmental law and human rights to preserve the conditions for life on Earth for current and future generations of humans and non-humans. Working closely with NGOs, scientists, lawyers, social movements, UN agencies, and grassroots communities from around the world, ERA students work on cases and projects involving creative litigation in multiple jurisdictions, transnational advocacy campaigns, and strategic research and communications. ERA’s projects tackle existential challenges to environmental justice and human rights, including the climate emergency, the destruction of biodiversity and ecosystems, threats to Indigenous peoples’ rights and territories, the global pollution crisis, and large-scale cruelty to animals and other species.

Course Description


The seminar focuses on substantive topics and practical skills that future lawyers will need to address the interrelated challenges of social and environmental injustice with the speed and scale that the ongoing planetary emergencies require. Through readings and multimedia materials; problem-solving exercises; and guest lectures by prominent practitioners, scientists, and experts from around the world, we will cover topics such as: the recent convergence between international environmental law and human rights, including strategies to apply the newly recognized international right to a healthy environment; the ongoing wave of rights-based climate change litigation in international and domestic jurisdictions; the profound and disproportionate impact of environmental destruction on the rights of vulnerable communities and the intersections between struggles for environmental justice and struggles against other forms of inequality (from racial, gender, and ethnic inequalities to domestic socioeconomic inequity and North-South global inequalities); the leading role of the transnational Indigenous peoples’ movements in legal actions and campaigns to protect forests and other key ecosystems; rights-based litigation and other legal actions to protect global biodiversity; and the growing trend towards the recognition of animal rights and the rights of nature more broadly.

Students will also develop professional skills that will enable them to contribute to these and other causes. As studies in social innovation and creative lawyering show, solutions to the increasingly complex threats to life on Earth require interdisciplinary tools, effective collaboration across national and organizational borders, and systemic approaches that capture the interconnections between environmental and social challenges. In this spirit, we will discuss and deploy skills such as ecological thinking, collaborative advocacy and lawyering, big data and visual investigations, social movement lawyering, systems analysis, and effective cooperation with scientific experts.

Given the existential nature of the challenges we will address, the seminar promotes reflexivity and introspection about the personal components of our work. What does it mean to be a lawyer in the Anthropocene, the new epoch of Earth’s history in which humans have become the driving planetary force? What type of professional and personal commitments can contribute to developing impactful actions in the time we have left to avert the worst scenarios of the Anthropocene’s environmental and social emergencies? How can we build stronger bridges between the environmental rights movement and other movements for racial, ethnic, economic, and global justice?

Fieldwork and Projects

In line with the clinic’s collaborative and global approach, ERA projects are conducted in close partnership with organizations, communities, and individuals in different regions of the world. Projects usually entail a wide range of activities, including on-site fieldwork and data gathering, legal research, strategic planning with local and international networks, and creative communications and narratives work. Serving as strategic partners, legal advisers, counsel or co-counsel, ERA students conduct fieldwork with grassroots communities and local NGOs, contribute to the development of litigation tactics, help launch or nurture transnational advocacy networks and coalitions, and engage with scientists and experts in a wide range of institutions (from scientists’ collectives to UN environmental and human rights bodies). ERA projects oftentimes entail immersive fieldwork in different regions of the world.

In 2023-24, ERA projects will include:

  • Close collaboration with NYU’s Climate Litigation Accelerator (CLX) on ongoing and new legal actions that seek to put pressure on governments and corporate actors to step up action on climate change as well as hold them accountable for human rights harms and ecological destruction stemming from their policies and operations.

    Current CLX projects include (1) seeking government and corporate accountability for deforestation and the violation of Indigenous rights and territories in the Brazilian Amazon; (2) seeking reparations for Global South communities from government and corporate actors most responsible for global warming; (3) supporting legal challenges to new fossil fuel infrastructure in Africa; (4) supporting climate litigation before the European Court of Human Rights through amicus curiae briefs; and (5) developing new avenues for climate litigation in the Americas and South and Southeast Asia.  
  • Joint work with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP),  the UN Special Rapporteurship on the Environment and Human Rights, and an international network of advocates and experts on strategies and actions in different legal venues to advance the newly recognized international right to a healthy environment.  
  • Collaboration with international partners (including Indigenous communities in the Brazilian and Ecuadorian Amazon) on rights-based legal strategies to protect biodiversity in key forests and ecosystems.  
  • Legal actions based on animal rights and rights-of-nature norms that seek to advance a holistic understanding of rights (what we call “more-than-human” rights) as well as hold governments and corporations accountable for impacts on human and nonhuman welfare.

Clinical Credit Structure and Time Commitment Expected

Altogether, the year-long clinic's seminar and fieldwork components amount to a total of fourteen credits. This clinic is time-intensive. Students applying to the clinic should ensure that they are able to make a time commitment commensurate with the full credit load for the course. They should also be available to travel and conduct immersive fieldwork overseas as needed, including in Indigenous territories and key ecosystems like the Amazon forest. Some of the fieldwork trips may take place in the week before the beginning of the Spring term or during Spring break. To be responsive to clinical needs, travel schedules, and opportunities to engage with ERA partner organizations and guest speakers, the exact duration and timing of seminar sessions is subject to change. Therefore, students should set aside a three-hour block for each session, so as to allow buffer time for the precise timing of each session, corresponding to the number of seminar credits.

Application Procedure

Please submit the standard application, transcript and resume on-line via CAMS. Selected students may be contacted for an interview by the clinic assistant Henessa Gumiran. If you have any questions, please direct them to César Rodriguez-Garavito.

There is a separate application form for LL.M. students. Please use that form and submit it along with a resume and unofficial transcript to CAMS. The deadline is different than for JDs, and is posted on the Clinic Application Timelines page. Selected LL.M. students will be contacted for interviews in the summer as part of the selection process.

Student Contacts

Ginger Hervey
Jacob Metz-Lerman
Jessica Palairet

* 4 clinical credits and 3 academic seminar credits are awarded in the Fall; 4 clinical credits and 3 academic seminar credits are awarded in the Spring. The total for the year is 14 credits.