In recent decades, judiciaries throughout the world have begun organizing around the question of how to fulfill the responsibilities that constitutions and laws have afforded them in the field of environmental protection. The 2002 Johannesburg Principles on the Rule of Law and Sustainable Development affirmed commitment of members of the judiciary from across the globe to be active as crucial partners in strengthening environmental law and striving toward sustainable development. In 2012, the Rio+20 Declaration on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability reinforced the leadership of judiciary as guarantor of the rule of law in the field of the the environment, and outlined the need for an "Institutional Framework for the Advancement of Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability in the 21st Century".
In responding to environmental crises on Earth, such as biodiversity loss, climate change, and water insecurity, judges play an increasingly critical role in the implementation, compliance, and enforcement of effective laws. In this context, various national and international organizations have developed initiatives to prepare, train, and enhance the capacity of judges — including those serving on the rapidly increasing number of specialized environmental chambers, courts, and tribunals — to exercise their role in environmental matters. The Global Judicial Institute on the Environment (GJIE) builds on and unifies these efforts to create a forum for convening judges on environmental issues, providing opportunities for exchanging information, creating partnerships for collaboration, strengthening capacity, and providing research and analysis on topics important for environmental adjudication, court practices, and the environmental rule of law.
The founding of the GJIE represents another milestone in the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law's (WCEL) longstanding efforts promoting and strengthening environmental law around the world, particularly through the leadership of Chairs Emeriti Wolfgang E. Burhenne, Parvez Hassan, Nicholas A. Robinson, and Sheila Abed. In light of this tradition, WCEL Chair Justice Antonio Herman Benjamin proposed the creation of the GJIE, incorporating the idea as a key objective of the quadrennial mandate (2012 – 2016) of the World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL), and subsequently approved in Jeju, South Korea, by the 5th IUCN World Conservation Congress in 2012. Additionally, Resolution 5.129 was approved by the same Congress, with the goal of guaranteeing IUCN Members’ support for the major judicial initiative.
After the Jeju Congress, WCEL began broad international consultations, including numerous country visits, workshops, video conferences, and other face to face events promoting the GJIE. In May 2015, the IUCN Council adopted a decision at its 85th meeting welcoming and endorsing “… the proposal of the World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL) for the establishment of a Global Judicial Institute for the Environment”, and encouraged “…all constituent parts of the Union, including IUCN Members, to contribute to the development of the Institute and to work with the WCEL and its partners as it implements this undertaking”.
GJIE Charter and IUCN endorsement
The year 2016 witnessed the formal launch of the Institute. First, a group of judges and experts, including Chairs Emeriti Nicholas Robinson and Parvez Hassan, came together in Goiânia, Brazil on 23-24 April, hosted by the Brazilian Association of Judges (AMB) and the Brazilian National Judicial School (ENM), to discuss and prepare a Draft Charter laying out the mission, objectives, activities, and structure of the GJIE. Following this meeting, an esteemed gathering of senior judges from 15 countries, representing six continents, as the 1st International Meeting of the GJIE, adopted the GJIE Charter on 29 April 2016 during the 1st IUCN World Environmental Law Congress, held at the Supreme Court of the State of Rio de Janeiro.
Rapid and satisfying progress was achieved by autumn of 2016 when Justice Antonio Herman Benjamin recalled in his speech at the 6th IUCN World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, USA, that “In the four years leading up to this, we consulted with supreme courts and judicial organizations on every continent. An Institute such as this must of necessity be created with the consensus of judges”. Subsequently, the 6th Congress approved Resolution 6.071 “Appreciating the progress made by the World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL) since the 5th IUCN World Conservation Congress (Jeju, 2012) to advance cooperation amongst judicial institutions and support the creation of enhanced adjudication systems dealing with environmental issues around the world.” Furthermore, the resolution notes “…with satisfaction that IUCN's Council, at its 85th meeting in May 2015, endorsed the proposal to establish the Global Judicial Institute for the Environment”, and lastly congratulates WCEL “…for the initiative taken to establish the Global Judicial Institute for the Environment (GJIE)”.
The 2nd International Meeting of the GJIE convened on 19-21 May in the city of Brasilia and at Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park, Brazil. Numerous senior representatives of courts and tribunals, national judicial associations, and multilateral organizations worked with WCEL over three days to move forward on key decisions determining the Institute’s structure and legal personality, particularly its statute of incorporation, as well as arrangements for a secretariat and membership, and current and future activities.
Decisions of the 2nd International Meeting of the Global Judicial Institute on the Environment, included:
1) Adoption of the the Statute of Incorporation as an autonomous international association of judges and judicial institutions with the mission to support the role of judges, courts, and tribunals in applying and enforcing environmental laws and in promoting the environmental rule of law;
2) Establishment as an international association under Articles 60 and 79 of the Swiss Civil Code and to register its legal seat in Geneva (Switzerland); and
3) Election of Justice Antonio Herman Benjamin (Brazil), Justice Ragnhild Noer (Norway), and Justice Michael Wilson (USA) as the first three members of the Interim Governing Committee; chosen according to their role as coordinators in planning and carrying out meetings and their participation in the 1st World Environmental Law Congress in April 2016.
Governance and 1st Meeting of the Interim Governing Committee
In the intervening months from May 2017 to March 2018, the initial group of the Inteirm Governing Committee invited partner institutions and Founding Members (those present at the 1st meeting in 2016 and the 2nd meeting in 2017) to nominate candidates to fill the maximum 14 positions on the Interim Governing Committee. This interim arrangement is currently active, with 12 positions filled and two remaining open for potential representatives from Asia and West Africa, and will be in place for no longer than two years to plan and execute the election of the Governing Council as the supreme decision-making body of the Institute.
The 1st Meeting of the Interim Governing Committee (IGC) of the Global Judicial Institute on the Environment (GJIE) was held on 17-18 March at the National High Court of Brazil – STJ in Brasilia, Brazil. The historic meeting preceded the Conference of Judges and Prosecutors on Water Justice during the 8th World Water Forum and continued momentum for formation and governance of the Institute by gathering leading judges and partners to make decisions regarding governance, registration as an international association in Geneva, the establishment of a secretariat, and the membership process. Members also contributed to the inaugural lectures in the “WCEL Environmental Law Video Lectures Series,” agreed to establish a website and legal information database to support education and communication among members. Additional sessions engaged a wider group of participants in discussions on the proposed Global Pact for the Environment moving forward under the auspices of the United Nations, and reviewed the draft “Brasília Declaration of Judges on Water Justice” to be finalized during the Conference.
Thanks to Partners
Many compliments are to be made to the group of judges, experts, and formative partners that have provided critical support to WCEL for the creation of the GJIE, including the International Association of Judges, UN Environment, the Asian Development Bank − ADB, the Organization of American States − OAS, the EU Forum of Judges for the Environment, the Environmental Law Institute – ELI, the Brazilian Association of Judges − AMB, the Brazilian Association of Federal Judges − AJUFE, and several other academic and international institutions.