Kirsten Youens and Janice Tooley are the founders of ALL RISE, a non-profit and registered law clinic for climate and environmental justice in KwaZulu-Natal. ALL RISE is one of a few law clinics in South Africa with a specific focus on environmental and climate change law. These committed and experienced attorneys work pro bono for those who can’t afford legal services and take on matters of public interest. Much of their work is to prevent the fossil fuel industry from unscrupulous and unnecessary operations. It is opposing Shell’s seismic survey off South Africa’s coast and mining in the Unesco endorsed Vhembe Biosphere in Limpopo as part of the Musina Makhado Special Economic Zone. It stopped mining at Fuleni on the southern border of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve and Mpukunyoni on the park’s eastern border. Communities living adjacent to coal mines bear the brunt of water and food scarcity, and the ill health and psychosocial effects of living in an stressful environment. Kirsten and Janice assist communities and organisations to assert their constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being. They spend hours explaining difficult matters and running workshops to inform people in their home language on their constitutional rights to land, culture, information, just administrative action, clean water, and a healthy environment. They impart knowledge of court and administrative procedures such as environmental impact assessments so that people know how to participate meaningfully in the decision-making processes that affect them. By protecting people’s rights, the environment (which is an integral part of their lives), culture and well-being is also protected.
What’s been your/the organisation’s greatest achievement in your field?
The empowerment and legal protection of mining-affected communities and holding government and mining companies accountable.
- Coal mining in Fuleni halted in 2015 and 2018; currently opposing the re-application in 2023. Fuleni is on the southern border of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve.
- Coal mining in Thula Thula Game Reserve halted in 2018; currently opposing the re-application in 2023.
- Shell’s offshore drilling in the Bazaruto halted in 2020; currently opposing a re-application by Sasol in 2023.
- Applicants against Shell seismic survey case; Shell interdicted in 2021.
- Coal mining expansion of 222km2 halted in Mpukunyoni on the Eastern border of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve.
- Opposing development of the Musina Makhado Special Economic Zone, a massive greenhouse gas emitting “mega city” in the Vhembe Biosphere Limpopo.
Please provide specific examples of how your organisation’s practices and work have a positive effect on the environment
One of ALL RISE’s main and longstanding clients is an organisation called the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation adjacent to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in northern KwaZulu-Natal, whose members are opposing unsustainable prospecting and mining operations that adversely affect their land, livelihoods and their culture. In addition to representing our community clients in court and in various other legal procedures, All Rise is committed to empowering people so that they know their rights and are able to exercise them with foresight and intention.
What are some of the biggest environmental challenges faced by South Africans today?
No access to justice, the government’s lack of will and effort in moving away from reliance on fossil fuels, environmental injustices and failure to involve rural communities in the solutions, and the division between humans and nature.
Dirty water, dirty air, extreme weather, polluted beaches and oceans, species extinction and diminishing biodiversity, loss of fertile soils and threatened food security.
Our theme this year is Celebrating Environment Heroes. What do you believe could be the repercussions for millions of people in South Africa and the continent if we do not tackle problems exacerbated by climate change, encompassing issues like drought, floods, fires, extreme heat, biodiversity loss, and pollution of air and water?
Unfortunately, there is going to be food and water insecurity as well as loss of lives. Life will become miserable for all living beings, and even worse for the poor and the vulnerable. The question will be whether we turn on each other or regain our connection and work together to restore and hold on to what we have left.