We have a responsibility to respect the rights of Mother Earth

On May 6th, the third Earth Trusteeship Right Livelihood Lund Dialogue was held in Lund, featuring Mr. Nnimmo Bassey from Nigeria, a Time magazine Hero of the Environment (2009), a Right Livelihood Award Laureate (2010), and the recipient of the Raoul Wallenberg Legacy Award (2024). The dialogue brought together experts from the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, the Faculty of Law at Lund University, the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies, the Right Livelihood Foundation, the Global Campus of Human Rights, the Earth Trusteeship Working Group, and young leaders.

The dialogue consisted of three sections, divided into the themes Think, Reflect, and Act. In the first section, Mr. Nnimmo Bassey and Mr. Peter Lundberg, executive director at RWI, had an initial conversation. They shared insights from their experiences, discussed barriers and opportunities/challenges, and explored the roles of academia and education.

Mr. Bassey highlighted the importance of living in harmony with each other and recognizing the repercussions of our actions and the shared humanity between humans and other beings. He emphasised that we are social beings and part of the living community. He also stressed the need to act as trustees for the earth, to use logic and wisdom from grassroots communities, and to listen to those living at the frontline of disasters. “We have a responsibility to respect the rights of Mother Earth,” said Mr. Bassey. He noted the fundamental barriers we face, such as the acquisition of power, and the need to rethink our communal mindset. There is also a need to reexamine what it means to be human, to give and take, to sacrifice, and to slow down. Regarding the role of academia, he highlighted the importance of academics being embedded in the community and practice, stating that solidarity is built “in the streets”.

Mr. Lundberg emphasised the importance of understanding the historical perspective and expressed hope in the multilateral systems in place. “When it works, it’s really good and restores hope in humanity,” he said. The multilateral systems exist, but it is up to member states to decide when the systems are allowed to play their role. “When given a chance, it is unbeatable,” he added. Addressing challenges, he stressed the need to confront the relativization of truth and the need for a clear and stable horizon. Academia should represent hardcore truth, and it needs to be people-centred and wrapped in human rights.

In the reflect section, Elinor Isgren and Amandra Kron from Lund University and Johannes Eile, Christine Evans, and Matthew Scott from RWI contributed. Thoughts were shared on major environmental issues and the disparities in how they affect people. Solidarity was noted as an essential resource. Concerns were raised about the individualisation of academia and the need for critical examination of what research contributes to. Reflections included discussions on capacity building and human rights, acknowledging that unwillingness to comply with human rights often stems from political will and lack of capacity.

Other reflections came from experience working within multilateral human rights systems, emphasising the usefulness of these processes. The importance of acknowledging Indigenous knowledge as scientific was highlighted, along with the need for academia to be more accessible to communities. Protection for environmental defenders was also deemed crucial.

“Hope” was also brought up as an important concept, signifying the intersection of crisis and opportunity. There was discussion on how truth and knowledge are tied to power and systems, and how human rights are often seen as neo-liberal and colonial. However, there was hope for eco-centric human rights and the potential for human rights to be transformed.

In the final Act section, Lennart Olsson (founder of LUCSUS), Claudia Ituarte-Lima (Thematic Lead, Environment and Human Rights, RWI), Fatima Ali Shah (Master student at LU) and Edwina Magnus (master’s students at LU and representative for UPF) contributed. One thing emphasised was that meaningful change requires a shift in mindset, and that it is outdated to think we do not need to live with the environment, and academia can play a major role in changing minds. Another key point was the need to connect insights to action and to foster international solidarity. It is important not to take away the agency from people in vulnerable situations. Indigenous and local communities, often labelled as vulnerable, possess significant agency. Interspecies solidarity, already embedded in many views, was also highlighted.

One problem identified with academia is the Eurocentric framing of global issues. Much knowledge is not translated and, therefore, not harnessed. Youth voices also shared their experiences within the multilateral system and academia, expressing a desire for more accessible academic resources and the inclusion of non-Western scholars. There was hope in the growing interest among students in sustainability, and the importance of community within the university was highlighted to provide students with a platform to organise.

The Earth trusteeship dialogue 2024 was co-moderated by Nikita Lourenco-Calling, (Director Strategic Partnerships and Communications, a.i. RWI) and David O’Byrne (Right Livelihood College Coordinator and Researcher, LUCSUS

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