Friday, April 15, 2011

Denver Law's Legal Externship Program: One Student's Experience at the Center for International Environmental Law

Denver Law's Legal Externship Program provides many opportunities for students to experience legal work in the private, social and government sectors.

According to Program Director Professor Ann Vessels, "When students participate in an externship that complements their legal studies, their education is greatly enhanced, they become even more excited about the practice of law, and they make terrific contacts for the future. A perfect example is the externship in which Kristi Disney participated at the Center for International Environmental Law in Washington , D.C."

Ms. Disney describes her experience below:
D.U. Sturm College of Law students who wish to gain experience in international environmental law and policy should look no further than the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). CIEL is a non-profit organization that works to “strengthen and use international law and institutions to protect the environment, promote human health, and ensure a just and sustainable society.” CIEL has offices in Washington, D.C., and Geneva, where CIEL externs and law fellows work on legal issues relating to climate change, regulation of chemicals, biodiversity, trade and sustainable development, international financial institutions (IFIs), human rights, and community-based natural resource management.

CIEL is a global leader in public interest international environmental law. CIEL’s unique ability to understand the concerns of grassroots communities around the world, and to effectively communicate those concerns to influential bodies such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, influenced my decision to attend law school, and set my sights on securing a CIEL legal externship.

My CIEL externship exceeded my expectations. As a full-time CIEL extern last fall, I was able to complete a variety of assignments under the supervision of some of the world’s leading international environmental lawyers. I prepared memos on various international laws and policies, including nanotechnology; IFIs, freedom of information; use of webcasting to improve access to justice in judicial proceedings; and procedures to improve international environmental governance.

My primary assignment at CIEL was to review the impacts of the World Bank “Eskom” project, a project which includes a large-scale coal-fired power plant, on South Africa and its ability to satisfy commitments under environmental and climate change treaties. This work involved reading volumes of environmental impact assessments, most of which the World Bank makes publicly accessible through its “Projects & Operations” website, and considering how the project adheres to the World Bank’s own Operating Policies (OPs) and Bank Policies (BPs). The assignment also allowed me to consider the health implications of the project on communities in the project area; impacts of the project on flora and fauna in the project area; and transboundary impacts of the project on both air and water quality.

This research contributed to a recent CIEL publication titled, “Fossilized Thinking: The World Bank, Eskom, and the Real Cost of Coal,” which examines the economics behind the World Bank’s $3 billion loan to support the Eskom Project, and considers the impact of the project on human health and the environment. The report finds that the Bank failed to adequately consider long-term costs and externalities of the Eskom project in its required cost-benefit analysis, failing to adequately account for project impacts on air, water, and public health.

The report also highlights the trend of increased World Bank funding for coal-fired energy production, at a time when the Bank holds itself out as being committed to low-carbon, climate friendly energy development. The report advocates for the World Bank to commit more of its resources to serious consideration of alternative sources of energy such as wind and solar.

The release of CIEL’s report comes at a time when the World Bank is revising its “Safeguard Policies” on energy and environment, as well as revising its Energy Strategy. The report also comes at a time when the World Bank Inspection Panel is reviewing the Eskom Project in response to complaints from individuals and community organizations in the project area. The World Bank Inspection Panel, developed in part due to CIEL’s efforts, reviews complaints from persons who have been adversely affected by Bank-funded projects. The Inspection Panel makes complaints and related reports available to the public through the World Bank website.
DU students wishing to learn more about CIEL and its internship and fellowship opportunities may contact Kristi Disney at or Sophia Plagakis at

Editor's note: Ms. Disney is on the far left in the picture above.

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