Environmental Law Initiative offers research funding for staff and students

What if… a new philanthropic fund established by the Environmental Law Initiative (ELI) Trust allowed both staff and students at the University to conduct research on environmental law topics in four very different areas?

This year, research grants have been awarded by the ELI Trust to Professor Catherine Iorns Magallanes, Faculty of Law; Dr Ocean Mercier, Head of School at Te Kawa a Māui; Dr Sarah Monod de Froideville from the School of Social and Cultural Studies; and Laws tutor Jonathon Sylvester.

Each of the four projects that have received funding aims to make a positive difference to the protection of New Zealand ecosystems and biodiversity.

Ocean Mercier says “Māori understandings of one of the most fundamental laws of nature—physics —can be found in oral histories such as whakatauki (proverbs), which embed natural laws alongside social laws. Whakatauki can reveal longstanding, deep and practical relationships with ‘te whanau o te taiao’, but to our knowledge have not been examined from this specific lens. Thus, whakatauki and our understandings of them have as yet unknown potential to influence contemporary New Zealand environmental law.”

Her project ‘Natural Laws: Physics in Whakatauki’ will examine more than 2,500 whakatauki from Ngā Pēpehā o ngā Tīpuna (Mead and Grove, 2001), extracting those relevant to physics for further thematic analysis. Her analysis will be coupled with a scan and comparison of how iwi environmental management plans and other selected media are using whakatauki in relation to environment planning and management.

Sarah Monod de Froideville has received funding for her research, ‘Whose interests are protected?—The case of the EPA Board of Inquiry decision regarding Te Puka stream in the Transmission Gully project’.

This project is concerned with the ability of national legislation to protect the environment in a situation where local authorities have jurisdiction over environmental resources in their area.

On receiving funding from the Trust, Sarah said “The law remains our best instrument for protecting the environment. By focusing on this relationship, this fund supports research examining how the law may do better in this regard. It has enabled me to employ a research assistant to help with data collection and the first stages of analysis for my project.”

The ELI has also helped to fund the Wellington Community Justice Project, which is a student-led investigation into the environmental and resource law issues relating to the quarrying of Te Weraiti a tūpuna maunga in Okauia Matamata.

Jonathon Sylvester says, “Our project will unpack the legal issues for Tangata Marae looking from the resource consent decision that continued the quarrying of their tūpuna through to the environmental issues to the water flowing from Te Weraiti.

“The ELI Research Fund has given us the opportunity to visit Tangata Marae and connect with the community. As students, undertaking research to help a community can be difficult and the fund has created the opportunity for us to lend our skills to Tangata Marae.”

The fourth project to receive funding, ‘A Fundamental Environmental Rule of Law’, will look at how an environmental rule of law could be ‘developed’ (or discovered) within the legal system. It will involve drawing from various examples in New Zealand and other jurisdictions of rights and principles being drawn from the common law to provide an argument of why a fundamental right to a clean environment should exist within New Zealand law.

The hope is that the research and findings can be used by lawyers and judges to provide evidence and put forward an argument for this environmental rule of law.

This partnership is a great example of how important philanthropy is to the University. Without relationships such as this, research projects like those being funded by the ELI Trust would be unfeasible.

Jasmine Cox, who is working alongside Professor Iorns on her project says, “I am so excited and honoured as a student to be part of this research project. This scholarship enables students to use skills they’ve been learning for years, to contribute to a tangible project— an opportunity we seldom get at university. It will also allow me to continue developing research skills over the summer break and learn about something I am truly passionate about—which might have a significant impact.”