World Commission on Environmental Law

Environmental Rule of Law

The IUCN World Declaration on the Environmental Rule of Law outlines 13 principles for developing and implementing solutions for ecologically sustainable development.
Astola Island Marine Protected Area, Pakistan

The IUCN World Declaration on the Environmental Rule of Law was drafted by a team of World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL) members at the 1st IUCN World Environmental Law Congress in April 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on the basis of a wide range of consultations prior to and during the Congress.  It was adopted by consensus in the final stages of the Congress, and later finalized by the Steering Committee of the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law.   As noted in a postscript to the Declaration, it ‘does not represent a formally negotiated outcome and does not necessarily reflect the views of any member of the Steering Committee or any individual, institution, State, or country, or their institutional positions on all issues.’

The Preamble to the Declaration sets out the goal of building the environmental rule of law as the legal foundation for environmental justice, and contains a number of paragraphs recognising that humanity exists within nature and that all life depends on the integrity of the biosphere and the interdependence of ecological systems. It emphasises the anthropogenic stresses on the Earth, the close relationship between human rights and environmental conservation and protection, and the fundamental importance of ecological integrity. It also recognises the contribution of environmental law principles to the development of legal and policy regimes for conservation and sustainable, and supports the evolution of such principles. The Preamble also respects the importance of indigenous knowledge and cultures, and that education and empowerment of women and girls is fundamental.   It further recognises the existing gaps and shortcomings that prevent environmental law from achieving adequate environmental conservation and protection and addressing environmental crimes.  Finally, it observes the essential role that judges and courts play in building the environmental rule of law.

After the Preamble, the Declaration proceeds in four parts:

I. Foundations of the Environmental Rule of Law:  This part recognises that the ‘environmental rule of law’ is a refinement of the traditional notions of ‘rule of law’.  It provides an additional framework of procedural and substantive rights and obligations that incorporate the principles of ecologically sustainable development.  It then sets out the key governance elements of environmental rule of law.

General and Emerging Substantive Principles:  The 13 principles form the central part of the Declaration, aimed at promoting and achieving ecological justice through the environmental rule of law.  The list of principles is not intended to be exhaustive. It is recognised that there are other environmental law principles, many of which are widely accepted and well-established, including procedural rules such as the right to information, participation environmental decision-making and access to justice. While the focus of the Declaration is on substantive principles some can be characterized as having both substantive and procedural aspects.  The principles are:  

  1. Obligation to Protect Nature
  2. Right to Nature and Rights of Nature
  3. Right to Environment.
  4. Ecological Sustainability and Resilience
  5. In Dubio Pro Natura
  6. Ecological Functions of Property
  7. Intragenerational Equity
  8. Intergenerational Equity
  9. Gender Equality
  10. Participation of Minority and Vulnerable Groups
  11. Indigenous and Tribal Peoples
  12. Non-regression
  13. Progression
III. Means of Implementation of the Environmental Rule of Law: This part focuses on elements which assist in building the procedural and substantive components of the environmental rule of law at national, sub-national, regional, and international levels.  It sets out a range of practical mechanisms, some of which would require legislative provisions to be adopted in most national jurisdictions, as many of the specified elements only exist in law in some countries.   Other mechanisms listed would require policy innovations.  
IV.  Appeal to the World Community:  This concluding part urges all governmental and societal sectors to contribute to the building, maintenance, and promotion of the environmental rule of law,

Any inquiries regarding the Declaration can be sent to the Executive Officer, IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law.

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