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CLI Releases a New Framework for a Just Climate Legacy

April 22, 2009

SOUTH ROYALTON, VT—The Climate Legacy Initiative (CLI) at Vermont Law School (VLS) is distributing a ground-breaking policy paper that examines the rights of future generations to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment—Recalibrating the Law of Humans with the Laws of Nature: Climate Change, Human Rights, and Intergenerational Justice. The product of interdisciplinary working groups, law professors and student research assistants from the VLS Environmental Law Center and The University of Iowa Center of Human Rights, and consultation with a distinguished advisor panel, the paper makes 16 recommendations for defining, establishing, and ensuring the ecological rights of our children and the generations who follow them. It is being distributed to national and international policy makers, environmental and human rights organizations, law schools, and the legal bar.

“Our children and grandchildren are living embodiments of our legacy,” says CLI Director Burns Weston. “They deserve the same promise and opportunity we inherited from our parents.” But, he observes, the climate crisis threatens to take that all away. “The present generation must take legal responsibility for the ecological legacy we leave behind. It is a rank injustice to our heirs if our behavior does not change.”

The CLI’s paper examines the law of the U.S. and selected other countries, international law, and indigenous peoples’ law through a three-part framework that advocates the conservation of ecological options, quality, and access of future generations in national and international law. “This means,” Weston says, “that current generations must act to ensure the right of future generations to biological diversity, environmental quality, and equitable access to resources.”

Weston intends to distribute the paper to policy makers who will attend the UN Climate Change Conference this coming December. Vermont Law School Professor Tracy Bach, associate director of the Climate Legacy Initiative, says the CLI findings reinforce the work of scientific delegates at the international congress in Copenhagen. “They’ve detailed how climate change differentially affects people within and between countries and regions, already in this generation. The delegates also agree that an adaptation safety net and a common but differentiated mitigation strategy are required for those people least capable of coping with climate change impacts. The CLI policy paper builds on this environmental understanding, to help human society cope with climate change by recalibrating its laws to those of nature.”

The paper draws on the expertise of distinguished advisor panelists such as Edith Brown Weiss, Georgetown University law professor; James Gustave Speth, dean of Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies; David Orr, chair of the Environmental Studies Program at Oberlin College; Bryan Norton, environmental philosopher from the Georgia Tech School of Public Policy; Harriet Barlow, director of the HKH Foundation and the Blue Mountain Center; Jörg Chet Tremmel, founder and director of the Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations, Germany; and Roger Kennedy, former director of the National Park Service and director emeritus of the National Museum of American History.

A paradigm shift in the way law and nature interact, which is at the heart of this policy paper, could not be more urgently needed. As Kennedy writes in the paper’s Foreword, “The earth is the ultimate court of appeals.” The paper is available from VLS or as a download from the CLI home page at


Vermont Law School—a private, independent institution—-is top-ranked in environmental law by U.S. News & World Report. VLS offers a Juris Doctor (JD) curriculum that emphasizes public service, a Master of Environmental Law an Policy (MELP) degree for lawyers and nonlawyers, and two post-JD degrees, the Master of Laws (LLM) in Environmental Law and the LLM in American Legal Studies (for international students). The school also features innovative experiential programs and is home to the Environmental Law Center and the South Royalton Legal Clinic. For more information, visit

CONTACT: Jennie Clarke, Communications Coordinator, 802-831-1310

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