Protecting and safeguarding the environment through Law

From Indonesia to the Solomon Islands, 363 million people depend on marine resources in the Coral Triangle region (CTR). Coping with threats from human activities and climate change is a major stake in the western Pacific region which faces overfishing, destructive fishing methods (cyanide or blast), increasing human populations and loss of critical habitats. Increasing the resilience of the coastal and marine ecosystem by strengthening coastal and marine management will contribute to food and livelihood security.

ELA Workshop in Honiara, Solomon Islands

The IUCN Oceania Regional Office (ORO) was funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 2011 to help improve management of coastal and marine resources and enable the sharing of best practices amongst communities and conservation practitioners through the Regional Component of the Project that focused on two areas:

  1. Strengthening environmental laws, including building public and private sector environmental law capacity; linking the countries to regional legal networks, awareness building, and training; and establishing environmental law associations (Law Component);
  2. Helping the countries to develop a regional learning forum; and synthesizing, sharing, and disseminating best practices in integrated coastal resource management (Learning Component).

The project is implemented in the coral triangle countries of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste and includes Vanuatu and Fiji.
IUCN Environmental Law Programme (ELP) in Oceania implements the first area of the Project which focuses on the following objectives:

  1. Strengthening of Environmental Laws through capacity building; and
  2. Strengthening of Environmental Law through the establishment of Environmental Law Associations.

IUCN collaborates on the implementation of these objectives with the in-country Project Management Units. Countries have successfully undertaken a number of capacity building trainings and workshops through this Project and benefited from technical assistance provided on the development of environmental laws and policies. A major success of this project is the establishment of Environmental Law Associations in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, replicating the success story of the Fiji Environmental Law Association (FELA) which was established before the inception of this Project in 2009. The idea of an ELA became the vision to better understand regional environmental issues and using the law as a tool to promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable management of natural resources.

ELAs are formed on the premise that they can bridge the gap between civil society and government in in knowing their rights and making informed decisions on conservation and natural resource management. They have the ability to:

  • address current and emerging environmental issues and support legal reforms of government policies and laws;
  • provide the legal support communities would need to make informed decisions;
  • contribute to local, provincial and national legislative review process and inform national consultations; and
  • provide awareness programmes on local and international environmental laws to communities, government agencies, civil society organisations,
  • provide training on compliance and law enforcement to government officers and local lawyers. .

The Solomon Islands Environmental Law Association (SIELA) and Vanuatu Environmental Law Association (VELA) were formally registered and established in 2014. SIELA, however, was established around the same time as FELA in 2009 but only became a fully-fledged association when it was revived through this Project. The Papua New Guinea Environmental Law Association is in the process of being registered, however, the Project supported the formation of a Working Group that is seeing to the formal registration and establishment of the ELA. It is envisaged that the PNG ELA will be a formally registered association by August 2015. For Timor-Leste, capacity building was its main priority as the country did not have a bar association. Once established with and with funding made available, these ELAs will continue to strengthen environmental law in the region through the implementation of their strategic plans.
IUCN is currently providing technical and financial assistance through the ADB project to the ELAs of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu in the development of their Strategic Plans, linking them to regional, international and conservation networks through a series of meetings in Fiji in July 2015, identifying potential donors to support the work of the ELAs in their respective countries, and the formal establishment of the Pacific Network of Environmental Law (PaNEL).
We interviewed representatives of the ELAs in Fiji, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu and below are their comments.


FIJI


The Fiji Environmental Law Association (FELA) was established in June 2008 after an initiative hatched by a group of lawyers and scientists following the passing of the Environment Management Act 2008. Initially FELA was formed to address the awareness gap amongst lawyers however as the Association developed, there was a recognition that there was a need for awareness of environmental laws and issues across all sectors of society. IUCN is supporting Fiji in developing road maps on coastal management laws and policies to raise legal awareness and also working with partners to capture and share lessons for learning. Kiji Vukikomoala, Coordinator at Fiji Environmental Law Association (FELA), expands on the association.
 

Q. Why is FELA important in Fiji?
A. I believe FELA is important to Fiji because it is an organisation that has a special niche. Apart from IUCN’s law unit, there is no other organisation like FELA in Fiji. By focusing on an area of law that is relevant to all aspects of life and development, FELA is in a special place where we can inform communities, government, partners and the general public on the relevance of particular laws, how best to apply or implement those laws for sustainable development and the protection of the environment.
As a developing country, there are a lot of competing interests and we have ignored sustainable development for economic pursuit too many times. To meet the needs of changing times, FELA provides input and recommendations in the area of law reform. Given the broad application of environmental laws FELA has developed a special role in being able to provide expert advice to a very wide audience.

Q. What major achievements would you like to highlight?
A. There are many but the most important achievement to date is the ability of the organisation to be respected as an advisor to government, as well as to the community. On one hand FELA seeks to educate the communities and enable them to make educated decisions related to the use of resources and identify breaches of the law or lack of implementation, then, on the other hand, FELA is assisting government to better implement and enforce environmental law.

Q. What projects are you currently working on?
A. We now have a focus on fisheries management and extractive industries which is funded by the David and Lucille Packard Foundation. This work includes the development of fisheries management policy to inform our partners on the gaps or opportunities that exist under current law. We are also developing a number of practical tools to guide, assist and inform law enforcement and our partners. The next one is the fisheries enforcement toolkit which has received tremendous support from other NGO partners working in fisheries. These toolkits we hope will help to advance prosecution of breaches in fisheries law breaches in the future.
FELA is also about to launch a Turtle Enforcement Toolkit as a guide to law enforcement in Fiji, which is very exciting because it has the endorsement of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the leading enforcement agency in Fiji.
Aside from that, FELA is government certified to provide legal education to lawyers. We run yearly continuing legal education seminars for lawyers throughout Fiji every year.

Q. What is your vison for FELA’s future?
A. FELA needs to maintain its relevance and adapt to changing needs within its vision and mission. Above all FELA needs to keep focussed on its vision i.e. to promote sustainable resources and the protection of the environment through law. In time I hope that FELA can extend its services beyond Fiji to the Pacific.
 

SOLOMON ISLANDS

The Solomon Islands Environmental Law Association (SIELA) was first launched in 2009. At that time, the membership was exclusively restricted to lawyers and unfortunately, the association slowly dissolved. Through the ADB Project, IUCN continued to provide technical assistance to a newly formed SIELA Working Group for the revival of SIELA. It was revived in 2014 after the amendment of its Constitution to include non-lawyers and the formation of its new Board and Executive Committee. SIELA is now in the process of finalising its Strategic Plan and was recently granted funds from the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund (CEPF) to build its capacity. Senoveva Mauli, Chairwoman of SIELA was recently interviewed and made the following comments:


Q. What are the next steps for SIELA?
A. The next step for SIELA, is now the re-launch of the Association which will involve the presentation of the Strategic Plan, the recruitment of a Project Coordinator and providing administrative support.

Q. What are your priorities?
A. Priorities of SIELA are networking with partner organizations, working with Institutions such as Law Reform Commission hence provide them with relevant information to update/amend current legislations that need review. The objective is to become an information hub that accommodates legal information, obtains and shares information to partners.

Q. Why is it important to establish an Environmental Law Association in the Solomon Islands?
A. It is important to establish an association as such because of the need for Solomon Islands communities to know their rights and understand the law well. So as to protect their resources, SIELA will supply an update of legislations relevant to the environment to Solomon Islands people. Nowadays, there is a gap of addressing environmental current and emerging issues. Legal support provided by SIELA to the communities would help them to make informed decisions.
 

Q. What is the prior message you would like to convey?
A. Working with relevant stakeholders and the local people of Solomon Islands to better understand legislation is essential and will enable us to make informed decisions about the natural world that sustains us.


PAPUA NEW GUINEA


IUCN established an environmental law working group to support the project with the intention of increasing awareness and conducting training for private sector, government and civil society lawyers and the establishment of the Papua New Guinea Environmental Law Association. The PNG ELA Working Group is now in the process of formally registering the PNG ELA and formulating its Strategic Plan. Tamalis Akus, Chairwoman of the PNG ELA Working Group was recently interviewed and made the following comments:

Q. What are the next steps for you?
A. We are currently taking steps to develop the strategic plan but, in the long term, we would like to formally register the Association to enable affiliation by like-minded practitioners of Environment and natural resource law and policy. Developing our strategic plan is a priority for the Association so members and the institutions who anticipate our assistance are clear on the aims and objectives of the Association. It will enable effective engagement and partnerships.
We would like to be recognized as a group of experts who are interested in ensuring collective review of instruments whether policy, law, strategies or plans of action are consistent with existing legislation and international law.
Continuous capacity building of all members also remains a high priority and will allow them to participate to national law and policy developments, as well as in regional or global forums.

Q. Why is it important to establish an Environmental Law Association in PNG?
A. We recognize that many lawyers have received training in country and overseas, but given their current responsibilities with their different employers whether in public or private sector, we do not have a forum where we can all meaningfully engage in discussions. Such an Environmental Law Association in PNG will add value to our professional responsibilities and will be in a position to influence and contribute to legislative changes affecting conservation of habitat and wildlife.

Q. What is the prior message you would like to convey?
A. A forum for lawyers with experience in biodiversity conservation and practice would contribute meaningfully towards legal reforms governing marine and terrestrial conservation and the non-renewable resource sector. The Papua New Guinean Environmental Law Association can be a channel for vetting all draft legislative instruments in partnership with relevant agencies.
Essentially the association will:

  1. Have ability to contribute to (local, provincial and national) legislative review processes and inform national consultations,
  2. Member lawyers are better informed of current environment governance issues,
  3. Supporting our national agencies effectively enforce their mandate through enforcement of violations,
  4. Create learning opportunities for law enforcement officers (police, fisheries enforcement officers) together with lawyers.

VANUATU

Through the Project and support from the legal fraternity in Vanuatu, IUCN established the Vanuatu Environmental Law Association (VELA) Working Group with the intention of formalising the formation of VELA. Like SIELA, the VELA Working Group had initially developed a Constitution that restricted its membership to lawyers only. In 2014, VELA was formally registered and established and an Executive Committee was formed. It is now currently in the process of developing its Strategic Plan. We met Colin Leo, Chairman of VELA.

Q. What are the next steps for VELA?
A. The next step is to develop a clear and concise strategic plan for VELA to achieve its objectives and vision. Our priority is to secure funding to launch our association and allow the VELA to have its own office space. It is also part of the launching process that we will appoint a Co-ordinator to develop, administer and coordinate the welfare and objectives of VELA.

Q. Why is it important to establish an Environmental Law Association in Vanuatu?
A. Establishing an Environmental Law Association is a way for Vanuatu to safeguard and protect the environment through law as well as to raise environmental awareness amongst the general populace.


Q. What is the prior message you would like to convey?
A. To protect, and safeguard the environment through law.

 

IUCN is holding a two-day Lessons Learned meeting in Suva, Fiji from the 7th to the 8th of July 2015 where representatives of all five Governments and the ELAs will gather in Suva, Fiji, to share best practices and lessons learnt in the past three years of project implementation.

 

ADB TA 7753 - Strengthening coastal and marine resources management in the Coral Triangle of the Pacific.

For more information, please contact Maria-Goreti Muavesi, IUCN Oceania Acting-Senior Environmental Legal Officer, [email protected]
 

Location: 
Oceania
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