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Through the eyes of the law

Updated Tuesday, 15th June 2010

From COP15: Lawyer, Benson Owuor Ocheng, talks about his climate change journey from the moment he read environmental law at university.

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Copyright The Open University

Please note: This interview was recorded in a noisy environment, which may affect the clarity of the contributor's words.


Interviewer: How did you get interested in climate change?

Benson Owuor Ocheng: At a relatively young age, I mean I always loved nature, and as I grew up I took, grabbed some interest in the way the system works. Of course growing up in the village you always interact with nature in Africa. I mean that was part and parcel of me. I mean going to school of course you have all those interactions with forests and wildlife and all of the things around you, just beautiful growing up in the countryside. Going to university, it came sort of as part of the discipline I took, the discipline of law, and in there environmental law was then a selective, one of the choices one can make, and I don't know if it was deliberate, or if it was by chance, but I ended up taking environmental law and ever since never looked back.

Interviewer: What are you working on now?

Benson Owuor Ocheng: Principally my interests in environmental law focuses on the interface between trade and environment, of course, and the human rights, how all those interact, and particularly in the decision-making processes that influence sustainable development. So taking the aspect of human rights and the environmental concerns and how the international financial flows end up affecting [unclear], that is my primary interest. It is inclined towards my calling as a lawyer, and of course I think that is where there is greatest need, particularly in a developing country.

Interviewer: What will you be working on 5 to 10 years from now?

Benson Owuor Ocheng: Of course I am particularly interested in decision-making processes resulting in influencing economic growth and livelihoods in the field of the environment. That essentially is the interface between the governance and of course environmental management. I hope to continue working in that area because I think there is greatest need as the drive towards attracting foreign direct investment in Africa intensifies, and we see of course the problems that causes, in terms of undermining labellings and affecting daily lives of the people. I think there is the greatest need there.

Now if you look at the environmental stress occurring for various reasons of a population, corruption of course and planned development and unchecked consumption of limited natural resources, then you can see that there is going to be the greatest need in terms of how that influences livelihoods and people’s socioeconomic wellbeing, and that can continue in the context of climate change negotiations or processes, policy processes. It can happen in the context of national and political developments and socioeconomic undertakings in the, of course it happens at a very basic level of political development in a developing country like Kenya. I think there is just no way of opting out of that particular framework.

Interviewer: Optimist or pessimist?

Benson Owuor Ocheng: Well, one sees, unless there is a fundamental change of course in terms of direction, of engagement, particularly between the north and south, in terms of looking at the imperatives of human development, if people can reach some degree of appreciation of fairness, of equity and of the need to dialogue and get solutions to the problem, as opposed to each person looking inwardly at what they can get out of it, then it can change for the better. But if the current processes continue both in terms of policy and the grandstanding we’re seeing in, for example, climate change negotiations goes on, if what we are seeing in the developments on the international trade front, if what we are seeing in terms of unreforming governance structures or rigid political structures in developing countries then it is going to undermine livelihoods.

So in the one sense there is hope that there is room and opportunity, although that is we’ll soon foreclose if people can’t come to the table and discuss, that can be seen as an opportunity. On the other hand, if of course there’s no change, and if people continue to grandstand and look at each other as antagonists, then it can lead to greater undermining of livelihoods and of course catastrophic results both for the human wellbeing and of course general international human, international community discussion …

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