“I was told … that the costs and complications of human rights were too high and that they stand in the way of achieving conservation goals.”
— Sebastien Jodoin
In May 2011 toward the end of his first year as a doctoral student at F&ES, Sebastien Jodoin received word that he’d been awarded a prestigious Trudeau Scholarship. This honor, which his doctoral advisor and fellow Canadian Benjamin Cashore called “the gold standard of doctoral awards,” is given by the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation to “creative, accomplished thinkers and doers tackling issues of fundamental importance to Canadians.”
Jodoin, a 29-year-old Montreal native, was, of course, thankful for the $180,000 in educational funds that comes with the award, but he was even more elated about what it signified: an affirmation of his work on issues that he says are “at the intersection of human rights and environmental governance.”
Cashore, an F&ES professor of environmental governance and political science, took over as Jodoin’s advisor in March when Dan Esty became head of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. He is not surprised to see Jodoin flourishing at Yale.
“Sebastien is one of those remarkable students with diverse interests and an eye for the big picture,” said Cashore. “He is working on real-world issues. This is not something esoteric or abstract. His thesis represents the best of the F&ES doctoral program—taking a focused area and expanding it into a broader perspective.”
Before coming to Yale, Jodoin—who has two law degrees from McGill University and a master’s from Cambridge—had worked in the trenches, so to speak, as a human rights lawyer for the United Nations, investigating Rwandan genocide, and for Amnesty International. Since 2005 he has participated in U.N. negotiations on climate change, providing advice on international sustainable development law and policy to governments of developing and developed countries and nongovernmental organizations.
“In 2007 I began to focus on the linkages between human rights and climate change policy as a result of my work with indigenous peoples and their concerns, not only about the effects of climate change, but about the implications of responses to climate change,” said Jodoin. “I organized and spoke at a side event at the climate change negotiations in Bali (in December 2007) and was mobbed with questions from delegations afterwards. I could see a clear need for more research in this area. I found my niche as an international lawyer at that moment.”
While attending climate change conferences, Jodoin often encountered a dismissive attitude toward human rights.
“I was told by otherwise progressive delegates that the costs and complications of human rights were too high and that they stand in the way of achieving conservation goals,” said Jodoin. “I realized that the answers I could provide as an international lawyer were of limited interest to them. What I needed was empirical evidence on the actual costs and benefits of integrating human rights standards into conservation programming.”
This, then, is the basis of his doctoral research.
“I’ve taken the polemical middle,” he said. “The real question is, can I convince someone with a different agenda from mine with hard evidence?”
Because his doctoral research bridges the disciplines of environment, law, political science and social psychology, Jodoin is being advised by both Cashore and Alec Stone-Sweet at Yale Law School.
Jodoin first heard about Yale’s programs from Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger ’03, who mentored him in international law and policy. But he was sold on Yale after attending COP 15 in 2009 and meeting the F&ES student delegates.
“I ran into the Ph.D. students Yale had sent to Copenhagen and was impressed by their ambitions and the interdisciplinary nature of their research, and they spoke highly of F&ES’ dynamic and supportive research environment,” he said. “I’d thought about completing a Ph.D., and suddenly became convinced, in the midst of these 14-hour days, that I had found a topic that was academically rich and rife with implications for critical issues in international policy. The application deadline was two weeks away and I literally prepared my application during a late session at the negotiations at 2 a.m. This wasn’t done on a whim; it was just one of those moments when everything came into focus.”
The Trudeau scholarship is the capstone of his decision to come to Yale, and he has already made the most of his opportunities here. He is the coordinator of Green Markets Lab & Project on Human Rights, Democracy, and the Environment.
Jodoin credits Cashore with playing a critical role in his scholarly development.
“I share Ben’s openness to a diversity of methods, theories and perspectives, and our cross-disciplinary collaboration has been extremely stimulating thus far,” said Jodoin.
Cashore added: “The fact that he had real-world experience before coming to Yale has made a huge difference.”