First ever IUCN World Environmental Law Congress identifies key priorities for the future

The fundamental role of the rule of law in delivering a sustainable future was the theme of the first ever IUCN World Environmental Law Congress organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL) in Rio de Janeiro at the end of April.

IUCN Director General Inger Andersen and the Director of the Brazilian Postal Service launch a commemorative stamp for the 50th Anniversary of the IUCN Red List.

The Congress, distinguished by rich discussions and new ideas, identified key priorities for the fast-developing field of environmental law. These included the need to strengthen ethics, principles and rights, addressing gaps in existing law, as well as reinforcing compliance mechanisms and access to justice. The need to develop legal mechanisms to support nature-based solutions to the world’s environmental challenges was also pinpointed as of primary importance.

The Congress was convened in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and organised by the Brazilian Association of Judges, the Supreme Court of Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian National Judicial School, and the Association of Judges of the State of Rio de Janeiro, in cooperation with the Organization of American States, the International Association of Judges, the Asian Development Bank, the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment, the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement, the Environmental Committee of the Iberian-Latin American Summit of Chief Justices, the European Union Forum of Judges for the Environment, the Office of the Attorney General of the State of Rio de Janeiro, and the knowledge partner, FGV Projetos – Getúlio Vargas Foundation, Brazil.

Over three days of extensive discussions, the delegates, who included IUCN Director General, Inger Andersen, set out to assess the current state of environmental law, policy and jurisprudence. The Congress also provided a much-needed platform for lawyers, judges, governmental and non-governmental actors and other stakeholders to exchange views on emerging and innovative approaches, and for young legal professionals to present new ideas.

IUCN Director General, Inger Andersen, welcomes the outcome of the Congress: “We thank our Brazilian hosts for this great opportunity. We now have a stronger global network of deeply committed legal professionals ready to turn into action the rich discussions and ideas emerging from this first IUCN World Environmental Law Congress – all of which will strengthen environmental rule of law.”

The Congress focused on how environmental law, policy and jurisprudence can play an effective role in providing solutions for societal and planetary challenges, as well as the fundamental mission of the rule of law in delivering planetary sustainability, not only for our generation but also for generations to come.

The Chair of WCEL, Justice Antonio Benjamin, stresses some of the key aspects of the Congress: “The Congress was a turning point from several perspectives. Firstly, it had participants from over fifty countries. Secondly, indigenous leaders, including internationally acclaimed Chief Raoni, not only attended the event, but were honoured by IUCN WCEL as fundamental actors in protecting nature.

"There were also many women participating in prominent roles – a welcome result considering how the legal profession is still not gender-balanced in many parts of the world. Fourthly, the Congress also involved a great number of speakers from outside the legal profession, including scientists, economists and leading biodiversity experts. Lastly, for the first time over thirty Supreme Court and senior judges from all continents joined an IUCN event, culminating with the establishment, during the Congress, of the Global Judicial Institute for the Environment – a major achievement.”

Several pre- and post-Congress events were organized, including the first WCEL Global Colloquium of Early Career Environmental Law Experts, a Symposium on the Environmental Rule of Law, a Colloquium of Environmental Law Centers and Journals, and the first Meeting of the Global Judicial Institute for the Environment. 

Environmental Law has historically been one of the core areas of the work of IUCN. Together with IUCN’s field-based experience and extensive knowledge from both governmental and non-governmental member organizations, the IUCN Environmental Law Programme supports environmental governance and reform at multiple levels and ensures law-making is based on actual practice and needs.

News regarding the outcomes of the event, including the World Declaration on Environmental Law and the inauguration of the Global Judicial Institute, will be shared over the next few weeks.

Further information may be found on the World Environmental Congress website.

Work area: 
Environmental Law
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