Empowering Youth Advocates Across Asia for Climate Justice: WYCJ’s Inaugural Workshop in Colombo
The first capacity-building workshop of the Asian Front of the World’s Youth for Climate Justice (WYCJ), organised in collaboration with the Centre for Environmental Law and Policy (CELP) at the Faculty of Law, and the Centre for Climate Justice-Bangladesh (CCJ-B), took place in Colombo, Sri Lanka from 21st to 24th September. The programme was conducted under the guidance of Professor Kokila Konasinghe, Advisor for the WYCJ-Asian Front and Head of the Department of Department of Public and International Law of the Faculty of Law.
This significant event brought together passionate youth advocates hailing from ten diverse nations, including Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Maldives, Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, Singapore, and Bhutan, to address pressing climate justice issues. The workshop commenced with a meeting with Senior Professor (Chair) H.D. Karunaratne, the Vice Chancellor of the University, and Professor Sampath Punchihewa, the Dean of the Faculty of Law. The Vice Chancellor expressed his delight in hosting participants representing a multitude of countries, all driven by a shared commitment to advocate for a common cause and provided attendees with insights into the illustrious history and international achievements of the University of Colombo.
Nicole Ann Ponce, Front Convener for Asia at WYCJ, told the Vice Chancellor about the global significance of the WYCJ campaign, saying it aims to bring climate change and human rights matters to the attention of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in pursuit of an Advisory Opinion. This Opinion will serve to clarify the responsibilities of states in safeguarding the rights of both present and future generations against the detrimental impacts of climate change. Originating from students at the University of the South Pacific, the WYCJ campaign has since established regional fronts across Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, with the overarching goal of mobilising civil society and youth behind this crucial initiative. Ponce highlighted WYCJ’s ongoing efforts to engage more countries in the ICJ proceedings and encouraged states to submit written statements to the ICJ by the court’s deadline of 22nd January 2024. Subsequently, delegates from Sri Lanka and other Asian nations visited the Ministry of Environment in Battaramulla and held an extensive meeting with Dr R.D.S. Jayathunga, the Additional Secretary of Environment Development. During this exchange, the Sri Lankan delegates presented the WYCJ Youth Climate Justice Handbook to the Additional Secretary, who expressed his support for the ICJ Advisory Opinion and pledged to collaborate with youth advocates in preparing submissions.
The Capacity Buiding workshop took place at the Faculty of Law. Ms Dulki Seethawaka, a Senior Executive Researcher at CELP and Co-Convener for the WYCJ – Asian Front, extended a warm welcome to the delegates followed by Nicole Ponce, Asian Front Convener, who provided an introduction to the ICJ Advisory Opinion Campaign, outlining its milestones and highlights. She also elucidated the six pillars of the Court: Global Youth Movement for an ambitious ICJ Advisory Opinion. The First Masterclass was delivered by Mr Akalanka Thilakarathne, a Lecturer at the Department of Public and International Law of Faculty on “Introduction to Public International Law and Standing on the Shoulders of Giants.” His presentation covered crucial topics such as the nature and significance of an ICJ Advisory Opinion, the strategies for obtaining one, and the lessons learned from previous Advisory Opinion campaigns.
Professor Mary Sabina Peters from the Jindal Global Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India joined virtually and delved into the context of the ICJ Advisory Opinion, exploring the intersection of human rights, climate justice, and the legal landscape. On the 23rd the first session was conducted by Mr Vishal Prasad, Campaign Director of the Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change (PISFCC) and a member of the WYCJ’s Global Steering Committee who provided insights into “The Youth Climate Justice Handbook” and Youth Annex by illustrating how young activists can actively participate in shaping the narrative.
The next virtual lectures were conducted by Mrs Asanka Edirisinghe on “From Case Law to Global Impact: Contributing to the Progressive Development of Climate Justice in Law and Policy-Making” and Professor Peters on “A Deep Dive on the UNFCCC, COP, and NDC processes” respectively. In the final item of the agenda, the Youth Roundtable youths representing three organisations shared their experiences and the necessity to fight together against climate change. Ms Somabha Bandopadhay, a representative of the GARN Youth Hub, illuminated the connection between the Rights of Nature and Climate Justice. Additionally, two participants, Alex Lew from the Southeast Asian Cultural Heritage Alliance and Aliyah Almas Saadah from the ASEAN Youth Forum, shared compelling stories of their impactful work within their respective organisations.