Marie Curie Individual Fellowship awarded to Anna Berti Suman to conduct research into citizen sensing for environmental justice
PhD candidate Anna Berti Suman of Tilburg Law School has been awarded a Marie Curie Individual Fellowship to conduct research at the European Commission Joint Research Centre in cooperation with ‘Systasis - Research Centre for Environmental Conflicts Prevention and Management’, Milan. Her research proposal, which got the highest evaluation possible, is entitled ‘SENSJUS- Citizen Sensing as a source of evidence in environmental justice litigation and as a tool for environmental mediation’. The project will start in the fall of 2020.
On June 27, 2019, a landmark court decision was released in Texas, in which a judge found the petrochemical company Formosa Plastics Corporation, liable for violating the Clean Water Act because of plastic discharge into local waters. The case was brought by a civic group based in part on citizen sensed-evidence which involved volunteer observations performed over years. This practice entailing grassroots-driven environmental monitoring could be qualified as ‘Citizen Science’ and, more specifically, ‘Citizen Sensing’. The contamination could not be proved through existing data held by competent authorities since the company never filed any record of pollution with the competent authority. Rather, the monitoring and data collection was almost entirely conducted by local residents.
Cases such as the Formosa litigation are expected to increase drastically. They pose urgent research questions. Above all, the case motivates an investigation of the potential of introducing Citizen Sensing as a source of evidence in litigation over environmental wrongdoings. Furthermore, Citizen Sensing may also play a role in avoiding the court stage, as a tool to mediate the environmental conflict and to steer the responsible company to adopt an environmentally-compliant behavior.
Sensing for Justice
Related research is still in its infancy. The few championing actors in the debate are located in the United States, not flanked by a parallel inquiry from the European perspective. The key objective of Anna Berti Suman’s ‘Sensing for Justice’ project is to fill this knowledge gap in order to avoid a possible scientific and legislative vacuum, and provide newly required research capacity in the European Union.
The research will be hosted by the European Commission Joint Research Centre, currently leading actor in the research on Citizen Science for environmental monitoring and reporting, in cooperation with ‘Systasis - Research Centre for Environmental Conflicts Prevention and Management’, Milan. This will allow Anna Berti Suman to play a crucial role in the enactment of measures to release Citizen Science for litigation and mediation’s potential across the EU. Berti Suman will defend her PhD thesis titled ‘Sensing the risk. In search of the factors influencing the policy uptake of citizen sensing’ on May 8th, 2020 at Tilburg University.