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Addressing climate change with the Jane Goodall Institute

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03 July 2020

To mark the first part of London Climate Action Week, we look at the work being done by teams in Belgium, China, London and Australia to support the Jane Goodall Institute – a global conservation organisation that works with communities across the world to improve the lives of people, animals and the environment.

Dr Jane Goodall

Dr Jane Goodall is one of the world’s leading conservationists and an outspoken environmental advocate, campaigning in particular on the effects of climate change on endangered species.

She has a fascinating personal story. Having become interested in studying animals at a young age, but unable to afford to go to university, she first qualified as a secretary and then in 1957 moved from Bournemouth to Kenya. She met and became an assistant to the renowned palaeontologist and archaeologist Dr Louis Leakey, and, having impressed him with her knowledge of Africa and its wildlife, in 1960 travelled to Gombe National Park in Tanzania to begin a study into the little known world of wild chimpanzees.

Dr Goodall adopted what was then considered an unorthodox approach, immersing herself entirely in the chimpanzees’ complex society and being the first person to give the animals names – the view at the time being that this compromised the objectivity of scientific study. She went on to make the ground-breaking discovery that chimpanzees construct and use tools, and that, far from being peaceful herbivores (as was believed at the time), they are carnivores with both highly aggressive and protective tendencies – in other words, much more like humans than was understood.

Redefining primatology and conservation

Jane Goodall’s work went on to define chimpanzees not only as a species but as individuals with emotions, relationships and long-term bonds. She led the way in a field with very few prominent women at the time, and is considered to have brought the most important advances in primatology during the 20th Century. She went on to expand her work into the protection of species against extinction, and the related and rapidly growing problem of deforestation across Africa.

In 1977, the Jane Goodall Institute was founded to redefine traditional conservation with an approach that connects species protection with the needs of local communities and the environment, promoting the central role people play in the wellbeing of animals and habitat.

As Jane Goodall herself put it: “When you live in the forest, it’s easy to see that everything is connected.”

Among the many awards and accolades she has received in her 60-year career, the most recent is the Tang Prize for Sustainable Development 2020, in recognition of ‘her ground-breaking discovery in primatology that redefines the human-animal relationship and her lifelong, unparalleled dedication to the conservation of Earth environment’.

Roots & Shoots – a global youth movement

A&O first began working with the Jane Goodall Institute in Shanghai over 15 years ago, when its Roots & Shoots entity became the first foreign NGO approved in China. Roots & Shoots is the Institute’s global youth empowerment programme, which began in 1991 when a group of local teenagers visited Dr Goodall at her home in Tanzania to discuss problems they had witnessed first-hand. From this initial group of young people, by 2019 Roots & Shoots had grown into a network of over 750,000 youth across more than 65 countries, developing the confidence and knowledge to become activists and future leaders in the field of conservation.

In China, A&O has provided financial support and pro bono legal advice on a range of issues to the Shanghai Roots & Shoots programme. In addition, each year since 2016 an A&O team has travelled to Inner Mongolia for four days to volunteer with the Million Trees Project, which raises community awareness of environmental issues and the ways in which individuals can lessen their own impact.

A million trees

In parts of Inner Mongolia, the combined effects of climate change and over-farming are rapidly turning large areas of land into desert. Each spring, sandstorms strike the area, destroying homes and forcing people to flee. The Million Trees Project brings together individuals and organisations to work alongside the local population – in this and other parts of China – to plant oxygen-producing trees, reforest the area and block the sandstorms. A&O now has a small forest in Inner Mongolia that volunteers have helped to plant over the past four years.

Maggie Li, a Legal Professional Assistant in Beijing, took part in the programme in 2019: “Our trip was both educational and fruitful. We planted 500 pine trees and pruned 360 poplars, as well as visiting the Taminchagan Desert (meaning ‘demon’ or ‘inferno’), which deepened our knowledge of the desertification process. We were all shocked by the devastation the sandstorms are causing.”

A&O is now also working with the Jane Goodall Institute in Australia to provide pro bono advice on a Roots & Shoots resource for schools, including developing and commercialising the programme across Australia.

As Sydney Partner Jason Denisenko explains: “This is a curriculum-linked programme aimed at engaging and educating students, as well as the wider community in Australia, about the natural environment. It’s a great initiative that will help keep children connected to nature at a time when many are having to stay indoors.”

A&O’s partnership with the Jane Goodall Institute in Australia is in its early days, Jason says. “But we strongly support its aims so hope we can build on this and do more together.”

Pro bono work to support reforestation in Belgium

In January this year, Jane Goodall addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos to launch One Trillion Trees –– a global initiative to grow and conserve a trillion trees around the world to help restore biodiversity and flight climate change. The project is aiming to unite governments, NGOs, businesses and individuals in a ‘mass-scale nature restoration’. 

In Belgium, A&O’s long-term connections to the Jane Goodall Institute Belgium (JGI Be) have evolved into a formal pro bono relationship through which a team led by Partner Werner Eyskens, along with Senior Associate Niels De Waele and Trainee Melanie Ruelens, have provided strategic advice and contracts expertise to help JGI secure a three-year partnership with the Belgian energy giant Luminus.

As well as bringing significant sponsorship and visibility to JGI’s tree planting programme, the partnership with Luminus will see a minimum of 12,000 trees planted in Belgium each year and a further 1.2m planted in Africa. A&O’s team has also provided JGI Be with framework agreements to support collaboration with local forestry groups in Flanders and Wallonia. The first tree planting event in partnership with Luminus took place in February this year and resulted in 18,000 trees being planted in Belgium and 1.2m in Burundi.

Melanie Ruelens says: “By working directly with JGI, I really got to understand their work. The tree planting programme and events are firmly aimed at combatting climate change, but they also encourage local communities to get involved and strongly consider biodiversity and wildlife when choosing plots and types of trees. Overall, it has been an enlightening experience to see up close how the Institute is making such a widespread impact.” 

This pro bono work in Belgium grew out of an earlier relationship developed by A&O’s IT Training Manager in Brussels, Koen Margodt – previously President of the Board of Directors of JGI Belgium – who brought together A&O volunteers to support the annual Forest in One Day tree planting event and other fundraising activities.

The relationship with JGI Belgium continues to grow, with Brussels Senior Associate Gabrielle De Vliegher becoming a Board member and providing regular pro bono advice across a range of issues, such as re-writing statutes and developing the international Roots & Shoots programme. Jane Goodall herself was due to meet A&O’s team in Belgium earlier this year, but the visit has had to be postponed due to COVID-19.

As JGI Board member Tanya Pérez Echeverría says: “As well as advising us on the contracts for the Luminus partnership, we have had general advice from A&O on many legal matters, for example continued employment advice during the COVID-19 situation. It brings us peace of mind to know that we have this kind of support when needed.”

IP support for the Jane Goodall Institute Global

Through the relationship with A&O’s Belgium offices, a team in the London IP practice is now providing pro bono advice to the Jane Goodall Institute Global, which brings together the work of its organisations across more than 30 countries to achieve effective community-centred conservation.

Associates Guy Jones and George Inglis, along with Partner Jim Ford, are currently providing advice on several discrete IP and commercial agreements designed to protect the Institute’s and Jane Goodall’s brand internationally. These agreements include terms for use when she speaks at conferences, lectures and events, both in person and virtually. The team is also working on agreements to govern the use by third parties of Jane Goodall’s name or JGI Global’s brand, or photographs or audio or visual recordings of Jane.

As Guy Jones explains: “Jane Goodall is an inspirational public figure and it is particularly rewarding to be able to assist her organisation in protecting its brand and other intellectual property rights.”

In the words of Jane Goodall herself…

 “Allen & Overy’s relationship with JGI in Belgium has now been extended to JGI in the UK and other countries, and is providing pro bono support which is absolutely invaluable to a non-profit organisation such as ours. A&O has provided premises for meetings, and all the staff are wonderful to work with, giving excellent advice and sometimes referring us to other top-quality law firms in other countries. We are so very grateful for this support as we struggle to make this a better world for future generations.”


Additional authors include Maggi Lee, Melanie Reulens and Koen Margodt