Over 175 frontline organizers, movement lawyers, and scholars gathered for the ‘Summit on Climate and Environmental Justice, Racism, and the Law’ at the historic North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham, North Carolina, in November. 

Taproot Earth Legal Director Amy Laura Cahn reflected on the intent behind the Summit: “The Summit came out of a need for coordinated action about how to advance climate and environmental justice at a time in which we are losing ground on using the law and the courts to dismantle the impacts of structural racism and shift power. The Summit gave space for organizers, lawyers, and scholars to take stock, assess the current legal and movement landscapes, and envision the reparative and transformative solutions that are needed for communities to thrive. It was also time to introduce new standards, so that lawyers, scholars, researchers, and other allies are working collaboratively and flanking frontline movements with respect and solidarity.”

For the Summit’s Opening Plenary, Ms. Cahn joined in conversation with Ms. Donna Chavis, of the Friends of the Earth and the RedTailed Hawk Collective, and Professor Theodore M. Shaw, Director of the University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights. An environmental and climate justice trailblazer, Ms. Chavis posed a question that shaped the Summit, “Who does your work serve? As lawyers, does your work serve the law or justice? We know, the law does not always take us to justice.” As a civil rights lawyer, Professor Shaw urged us to continue the fight, stating, “If you fight, you may win or you may lose. But if you don’t fight, you can’t win. I believe in hope. But I believe in fighting to make hope a reality.” 

Breakout sessions included topics such as the role of self-determination in disaster recovery, pivoting from false solutions, leveraging the court for climate justice, redistributing resources through philanthropy and federal funds, energy democracy, and transformative and reparative approaches to land stewardship. 

In the face of structural racism, colonialism, and extractive economies, participants came together to share an analysis of the threats to climate and environmental justice and excitement and alignment for the work ahead.

Highlights of the convening were captured on Twitter and Instagram. Recordings of the main sessions will be available in 2024.

The gathering was hosted by Taproot Earth, North Carolina Central University Law School Social Justice, and Racial Equity Institute, the University of North Carolina School of Law Center for Civil Rights, and Duke Law’s Environmental Law and Policy Clinic and Center on Law, Race and Policy. 

Representatives from over 50 organizations and institutions participated in the planning and steering committees for the event, including the following: Black Belt Justice Center; Boston University School of Lawl Center for Land, Environment, and Natural Resources, UC Irvine School of Law; Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law and Graduate School; Center for Coalfield Justice; Center for Constitutional Rights; Climate + Community Project; The Chisholm Legacy Project; Climate Justice Collaborative at the National Partnership for New Americans; Crushing Colonialism; Earthjustice; Friends of the Earth; GreenLatinos; HousingLOUISIANA; Land Loss Prevention Project; National Community Reinvestment Coalition; New York Lawyers for the Public Interest; North Carolina Environmental Justice Network; PolicyLink; RedTailed Hawk Collective; Southern Environmental Law Center; Tishman Center at The New School; Virginia Poverty Law Center; Wake Forest University School of Law; WE ACT for Environmental Justice; West End Revitalization Association