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The challenges of developing meaningful responses to environmental harm that stop damaging the earth and its inhabitants (human and other-than human), that repair and heal the devastating harms already made, and build different systems that respect ecosystems and the rights of future generations, have never been greater. Restorative justice presents an opportunity to bridge the ineffectiveness of existing environmental responses and the pressing need to correct existing harmful practices and prevent future environmental damage.
The umbrella term environmental justice includes many different perspectives, such as environmental law and activism, environmental regulation and protection, but also the movement to criminalise ecosystem destruction and initiatives to acknowledge the rights of nature and the duty of care for the environment. Emerging from varied social, ecological and economic contexts and pressures over the last five decades, lineages come from different disciplinary homes and focus on different actors as the protagonists of justice work. It is important to talk about environmental justice because often it is the most marginalised communities who bear the burden of environmental harms, while being at the same time at the frontline of environmental defence, protection and guardianship.
Restorative justice is an approach of addressing harm or the risk of harm through engaging all those affected in coming to a common understanding and agreement on how the harm or wrongdoing can be repaired and justice achieved.
Restorative justice in an alternative justice paradigm that prioritises the harm done to human relations over the laws that have been broken; participation of citizens in their own conflicts over delegation to others; and reparation of the harm and damage done over punishment for the sake of inflicting pain.
Environmental harms and injustices raise specific challenges that are not present, or that manifest differently, in the other domains where restorative justice has been used. The following questions are important to consider:
- How can we identify the victims of environmental harm and who should have a voice in the restorative processes?
- Who can speak on behalf of future or past generations and of other-than-human (animals, plants, rivers, land, places)?
- What kind of expertise is required to speak adequately for the non-human?
- What are the criteria by which judgements around repair and restoration are to be made?
- Can irreversible and irreparable environmental degradation be healed and repaired, and if so, how?
- How can we ensure that the ones that harm and damage the environment participate voluntarily in restorative processes?
Restorative environmental justice must be tightly aligned with environmental, civil and political movements, generations of indigenous communities who are at the frontline of environmental defence, community activists, creative judges and lawyers, committed scientists and artists.
- Biffi, E., & Pali, B. (Eds.) (2019). Environmental Justice: Restoring the Future. European Forum for Restorative Justice: Leuven, Belgium. Retrievable on www.euforumrj.org.
- Video by Brunilda Pali (2020): Environmental restorative justice: A new justice framework for preventing and addressing environmental harms. Keynote presentation for the RJWorld 2020 eConference. Retrievable on https://vimeo.com/447131410/6e4071ca40.
- Video by Brunilda Pali (2019): Environmental Justice Restoring the Future. Retrievable on https://vimeo.com/375217391.
- Website by Femke Wijdekop: Earth Restorative Justice: Restorative Approaches to Ecological Harms. Retrievable on https://earthrestorativejustice.org/.
- Network “Restorative justice responses to environmental harm and ecocide” coordinated by Prof. Ivo Aertsen and Brunilda Pali, KU Leuven Institute of Criminology, Belgium.
- Project Victims & Corporations: Rights of Victims, Challenges for Corporations, Potentials for new models of Criminal Justice (2015-2017). Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, Italy