Earth Rights Advocacy Clinic

LW.12825 / LW.12826
Professor César Rodriguez-Garavito
Professor Melina De Bona
Project Supervisors: Jacqueline Gallant, Ashley Nemeth 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 (ERA) Clinic 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; 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 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. Please note that all ERA projects involve immersive fieldwork in diverse regions of the world.

In 2024-25, ERA projects that students may participate in include:

  • Work with NYU’s Climate Law Accelerator (CLX) on ongoing and new legal actions that seek to pressure governments and corporate actors to enhance their efforts in addressing climate change, as well as hold them accountable for human rights harms and ecological destruction stemming from their policies and operations. CLX projects may encompass
    • Formulating legal strategies and actions to pursue reparations for communities in the Global South – such as those in Bangladesh and Pakistan – from government and corporate entities most accountable for global warming. This process entails extensive research and consultation with legal and scientific experts, focusing on local jurisprudence, political dynamics, and scientific data related to pertinent climate impacts. Additionally, it involves conducting individual interviews, group workshops, and community surveys to comprehensively grasp both historical and ongoing climate-related consequences.
    • Seeking government and corporate accountability for the destruction of ecosystems and the infringement of community rights and territories in critical environments, such as the Amazon and Intag Forests.
    • Providing support for climate litigation in international, regional, or domestic courts through the submission of amicus curiae briefs.
  • Legal actions based on animal rights and rights-of-nature norms that advance a holistic understanding of rights (what we call More-Than-Human Rights or MOTH) and to hold governments or corporations accountable for impacts on both human and non-human welfare.
  • Collaboration with prominent journalistic outputs – such as Open Global Rights, Sumaúma and The Guardian – and Indigenous leaders and communities spanning from Brazil to the Philippines to push for the visibility of Indigenous ideas on global and national issues affecting their rights and territories. Such topics have included the Yanomami genocide in Brazil, the establishment of Indigenous Ministries in federal governments of the Global South, and the relationship between green capitalism and violations of Indigenous rights. Several ERA projects involve closely strategizing with Indigenous communities and organizations to take legal and quasi-legal action on such critical issues.
  • Joint work with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN Special Rapporteurship on the Environment and Human Rights, and an international network of advocates and experts on strategies to advance the newly recognized international right to a healthy environment. This collaborative effort includes initiatives like NYU Law’s R2HE Toolkit, aimed at advancing and implementing this crucial right through publication of reports and case studies.
  • Collaboration with international partners on rights-based legal strategies to protect biodiversity in key forests and ecosystems.

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, 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 Gillian Duran. If you have any questions, please direct them to César Rodriguez-Garavito or Melina DeBona.

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. Please be advised that the deadline for LL.M.s is different than the deadline 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

Emma Crowe
Adam Reynolds
Jeremy Zullow
Ginger Hervey

* 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.