By Reya Shreya Rai

The 31st Annual Council Session of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC31), held in Wilmington, North Carolina, is a pivotal event bringing together environmental activists, scholars, and policymakers from Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

This annual gathering, known for its role in shaping environmental policies and fostering regional cooperation, is marking a significant step forward in addressing some of the most pressing environmental challenges facing North America today.

The second day CEC31 was structured to address three core themes: the pervasive issue of environmental injustices, the need for robust international collaboration, and the strategic planning required to develop and implement equitable environmental policies.

By bringing together diverse voices and perspectives, CEC31 aims to create a unified approach toward achieving sustainable and just environmental practices across North America.

Jorge Daniel Taillant, CEC Executive Director at Commission for Environmental Cooperation’s (CEC) and Prof. La’Meshia Whittington, Co-Founder and President, Democracy Green.

Grassroots movements in environmental justice

Octavio Rosas Landa, a professor in the School of Economics at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), provided a powerful narrative on the origins and impact of grassroots movements in Mexico.

Landa, also recognized as a proponent of Mexico’s General Water Act (Ley General de Aguas) and a founding member of the National Assembly of the Environmentally Affected (Asamblea Nacional de Afectados Ambientales—ANAA), highlighted how these assemblies exposed environmental devastation and injustice, effectively mobilizing local communities.

Over 10 assemblies were organized, leading to significant advocacy and awareness-raising activities. Landa emphasized the critical role these grassroots efforts played in bringing environmental issues to the forefront, underscoring the importance of community-driven actions. “We exposed all environmental devastation and injustice to local communities here in Mexico,” he said.

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By bringing together affected individuals and fostering a sense of solidarity, these initiatives have significantly influenced environmental policies in Mexico. Landa stressed the effectiveness of grassroots movements in driving policy changes and raising awareness about environmental issues.

Policy innovations and environmental strategies

Amanda Monforton, director of Policy Development at Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), delivered an insightful presentation on policy innovations and environmental strategies aimed at addressing climate change and environmental degradation.

Monforton discussed the critical role of policy development in driving environmental progress, highlighting Canada’s recent advancements in environmental legislation. “We are committed to integrating scientific research and community feedback into our policy-making process,” she stated.

Monforton emphasized the importance of developing adaptive policies that can respond to emerging environmental challenges and the need for cross-sector collaboration to implement these policies effectively. She also underscored the significance of international cooperation, noting that environmental issues do not recognize borders and require a unified global response.

Her presentation illustrated how Canada’s policies are evolving to meet the pressing demands of climate change, aiming to create sustainable and resilient communities.

“Our goal is to ensure that our policies not only protect the environment but also promote social equity and economic growth,” Monforton concluded.

The evolution of international collaboration

Dr. Benjamin Chavis provided insights into the history and evolution of international collaboration on environmental justice since 1991.

“None of us waited for government permission,” Chavis stated, emphasizing the grassroots origins of the movement. He highlighted the importance of community-led initiatives and the necessity of building a movement stronger than the resistance it faces.

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“We have to build and continue to build a movement that is more powerful than the resistance to the movement,” Chavis urged. He elaborated on the strategic use of technology and communication in the movement’s evolution.

Chavis called for a consortium of major academic institutions across Canada, the U.S., and Mexico to out-publish and out-produce adversarial forces. “This is a fight. And we have to make sure that I’m in the fight to win,” he declared.

Decolonization and systemic change

Eriel Deranger, executive director and founder of Indigenous Climate Action spoke about the necessity of decolonization within environmental justice frameworks. “We need to be moving away from looking for permission,” Deranger said.

She further emphasized that environmental justice should be a step towards liberation, requiring the dismantling of colonial structures and systems. “Environmental justice as a framework or an ideology is part of the tools in the toolkit; it’s not the goal,” she stated.

Deranger criticized current structures that perpetuate inequality, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and the Trust Doctrine. Instead, she calls for a complete overhaul of the foundational legal frameworks. Additionally, she highlighted the importance of ceremonies and spiritual practices in reconnecting Indigenous peoples with their land and each other.

“Ceremony reconnects us not just with our relationships with each other but our relationships with our kin, the lands, and spirit,” said Deranger.

Collaborative governance and policy integration

Collaborative governance was a central theme throughout the session. Octavio Rosas Landa emphasized the importance of creating collaborative pathways between government agencies, academia, and grassroots organizations.

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“We need to create different ways to collaborate,” Landa said. He noted the growing interest in such collaborations as a positive step forward.

The panel further addressed this sentiment, stressing the need for policies that reflect the lived experiences of affected communities.

Effective implementation of environmental policies requires prioritizing community impacts and ensuring that decisions are informed by those most affected by environmental issues.

“Policies must reflect the lived experiences of communities,” they stated. They highlighted Canada’s new environmental laws as a progressive step but emphasized that effective implementation must prioritize community impacts. This involves ensuring that the policies are not just top-down directives but are informed by those who are most affected by environmental issues.

Next steps and strategic actions

The second day concluded with a focus on actionable steps and future strategies. Dr. Bullard called for a strategic roadmap that includes measurable progress indicators and continuous community engagement. He stated that the roadmap should leverage academic research, technological innovations, and grassroots mobilization to drive sustainable initiatives.

From grassroots activism to international collaboration, the session highlighted the importance of inclusive governance, technological innovation, and systemic change.

Reya Shreya Rai is an editorial intern for Environment Journal. She is a writer and a student of Contemporary Journalism at Centennial College. 

Featured image credit: Getty Images

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