Ar C.J. Walsh – Consultant Architect, Fire Engineer & Technical Controller – International Expert on Sustainability Implementation + Accessibility-for-All + Fire Safety for All + Sustainable Fire Engineering
2020-09-22: Adopted at the International Fire Conference: SFE 2016 DUBLIN (www.sfe-fire.eu) …
Many years have passed since the 1972 UN Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment and the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. In 2016, Sustainable Development remains an intricate, open, dynamic and continually evolving concept. The guide and driver for frontline practitioners, policy and decision makers must be a personal Code of Ethics … an integrated and inter-related whole which cannot be reduced to fixed rules inviting game playing and ‘trade-offs’. After working with this Code, it may be necessary to expand on and discuss its principles and/or some of the issues raised … not to narrow its focus, but to broaden interpretation.
The realization of a Safe, Inclusive, Resilient & Sustainable Built Environment demands a concerted, collaborative, very creative and widely trans-disciplinary effort at national, local, regional and international levels across the whole planet – Our Common Home. The informed operation of appropriate legislation, administrative procedures, performance monitoring and targeting, and incentives/disincentives, at all of these levels, will facilitate initial progress towards this objective … but not the quantity, quality or speed of progress necessary. Our time is running out !
This Code of Ethics applies … for those who subscribe to its values … to policy and decision makers, and the many different individuals and organizations directly and indirectly involved in the design, engineering, construction, and operation (management and maintenance) of a Safe, Resilient & Sustainable Built Environment for ALL.
The Purpose of this Code of Ethics is to guide the work of competent individuals and organizations in a context where incomplete or inadequate legislation, administrative procedures and incentives/disincentives exist … but, more importantly, where they do not exist at all … and, amid much confusion and obfuscation of the terms, to ensure that implementation is authentically ‘sustainable’, and reliably ‘safe’ and ‘resilient’ for every person in the receiving community, society or culture … before it is too late !
Update 2020-09-01: Although the term ‘Vulnerable People’ remains unaltered, I considered it wise, and very necessary bearing in mind the obvious myopia in the mainstream health, safety and design worlds … clearly demonstrated by the 2017 Grenfell Tower Fire in England, and this current CoronaVirus / CoVID-19 Global Pandemic … to include references to specific social groups …
Vulnerable People: Those people – in a community, society or culture – who are most at risk of being physically, psychologically or sociologically wounded, hurt, damaged, injured, or killed … and include, for example, people with disabilities, young children, people with health conditions, frail older people, women in late pregnancy, refugees, migrants, prisoners, the poor, and homeless.
2020-07-20: So many diverse design disciplines and interested groups are involved in the realization, operation and maintenance of a Safe, Inclusive, Resilient and Sustainable Human Environment (built, social, economic, virtual, and institutional) … that the use of simple, easily assimilated language and precise, harmonized technical terminology must be widely exercised. For the effective application of Building Information Modelling (BIM), this is particularly important.
And concerning Fire Engineering, it is not clear when the practice began, but defining a concept simply in terms of performance in a ‘standard test fire’ is entirely inadequate, and fails to explain the actual meaning of the concept.
This Terminology … a body of particular terms, each explaining and defining a single concept, covering inter-related building requirements, e.g. human health, accessibility and fire safety for all, firefighting, social rights, design, performance monitoring, and facility management … takes account of:
Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA)
WHO International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF)
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
Fire Engineering Terms … take account of the ‘realistic’ end condition, i.e. a real fire in a real building which is occupied or used by real people with varying behaviour and abilities in relation to self-protection, independent evacuation to an external place of safety remote from a fire building, and active participation in a building’s Fire Emergency Management Plan.
General Terms … are also included in order to facilitate a better understanding of:
the complexity of human behaviour and perception (visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile and proprioceptive) ;
the wide range of health conditions ; and, more specifically
Within the professional discipline of Fire Engineering … either a building is Fire Safe, or it is not ; the design philosophy of the Fire Engineer is irrelevant. Similarly, building designers must now begin to think and act in the simple terms of a building being either Accessible, or not. Too many pointless discussions, and too much petty squabbling, about constrained and constraining accessibility philosophies have wasted valuable time, energy and resources.
Building Accessibility encompasses the complete cycle of Independent Use, in a dignified manner and on an equal basis with others … and includes the approach, entry and use of a building, its facilities and information systems … Egress during normal / ambient conditions and removal from the vicinity of the building … and most importantly, safe Evacuation during a fire emergency to a Place of Safety which is remote from the building and reached by way of an accessible route.
To be Accessible, a building must meet a long and complex list of inter-related Accessibility & Usability Design Criteria sufficiently well, i.e. the building must work properly for building occupants and users. The design target is Effective Accessibility … not half-baked accessibility, partial accessibility, the minimal accessibility required by building codes, or token accessibility.
On the other hand, and taking additional account of the current CoronaVirus / CoVID-19 Pandemic … the construction and operation target must be Successful Implementation, i.e. the finished building design, as constructed and operated, must provide a consistently high degree of safety, convenience and comfort for potential occupants and users during the lifetime of the building.
People with Activity Limitations … those people, of all ages, who are unable to perform, independently and without assistance, basic human activities or tasks – because of a health condition or physical / mental / cognitive / psychological impairment of a permanent or temporary nature … are a significant vulnerable group in every community, in every society, and include people with disabilities, children under the age of 5 years, frail older people, women in the later stages of pregnancy, and people with health conditions, etc.
Fire Safety Codes and Standards for healthy, able-bodied, agile adults using buildings exist in almost every country ; these people can take for granted that buildings are fire safe for them !
However, guidelines concerning Fire Safety for People with Activity Limitations / Fire Safety for ALL (if those guidelines exist at all) are usually technically inadequate, entirely tokenistic and/or blatantly discriminatory ; these people must assume that there is a serious risk to their safety every time they enter a building. For them, this is a very significant barrier to their personal development, participation and social inclusion ; it is a clear and present violation of their human rights !
Forcefully mandated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted on 13 December 2006 … the UN CRPD’s Principal Aim is to ensure that the Human Environment (social, built, economic, virtual, and institutional) is sufficiently accessible to facilitate the safe exercise and enjoyment of those rights, protections and freedoms set down in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and subsequent International Rights Instruments, by a vulnerable and major section of the population in all of our communities.
It is time to Entirely Eradicate current obsolete, professionally negligent, incompetent and ridiculous approaches to Building Design which result in …
Fire Safety for SOME but not for ALL
Accessibility for SOME but not for ALL
Intricately inter-related … ‘Fire Safety for All’ is a vital component of ‘Accessibility for All’.
The words ‘green’, ‘environmental’, ‘ecological’ and ‘sustainable’ are becoming part of everyday language in the Developed World, but are frequently interchanged without understanding. To date, however, the concept of Sustainable Development has been hijacked by Environmentalists. For example, no connection at all may be seen between a ‘sustainable’ building and ensuring that it can be safely and conveniently entered and used by ordinary people.
In other parts of the World, the ambiguous WCED / Brundtland Definition of Sustainable Development is being systematically rejected ; the concept is viewed as an unaffordable luxury and/or as a means of continued domination and control by the ‘North’. Yet, sustainability must be a global compact.
In this intolerant and more fundamentalist 21st Century, the United Nations System, International Law, and Social Justice continue to come under sustained attack. And the Beslan School Tragedy* demonstrates that it is far more hazardous for disadvantaged, vulnerable and indigenous peoples in every society.
Some specific objectives for the 2004 Rio Declaration were as follows …
To present a 2nd Generation Definition of Sustainable Development which is more acceptable to the Developing World ;
To restore primacy to the Social Aspects of Sustainable Development … and particularly the ethical values of Social Justice, Solidarity and Inclusion-for-All ;
To embed the concept of the ‘Person’ in Sustainable Development … rather than the fleeting reference to ‘People’ which too often results in Disadvantaged, Vulnerable and Indigenous Groups being left behind ;
To signal one of the main challenges of Sustainable Development ahead – which will be to establish a framework of horizontal co-ordination at the many institutional levels … and between the many actors and end users … in the human environment.
Adopted in December 2004, at the Brazil Designing for the 21st Century III Conference, the Rio Declaration consists of a Preamble, 10 Principles and 5 Appendices ; its central concern involves People with Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF).
This Declaration extols implementation, and the targeting and monitoring of ‘real’ performance – as opposed to ‘imagined’ or ‘paper’ performance.
Essential Considerations for National Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s):This Planet is Our Common Home – Be a Good Neighbour to Other Countries (Cuba is a Good Example, USA is a Bad Example) … Global Solidarity & Multilateral Collaboration in Co-Operation with the World Health Organization (WHO) … Act Fast … Perfection is the Enemy of the Good … The Precautionary Principle … Test-Test-Test … Return Test Results within 24 Hours … Trace Contacts within the Next 24 Hours … Collect, Collate and Openly Share Reliable Data & Statistics … Vulnerable People Require Equitable Safety Measures … Uphold and Protect Human & Social Rights.
[ Vulnerable People: Those people – in a community, society or culture – who are most at risk of being physically, psychologically or sociologically wounded, hurt, damaged, injured, or killed … and include, for example, People with Disabilities, Young Children, People with Health Conditions, Frail Older People, Women in Late Pregnancy, Refugees, Migrants, Prisoners, the Poor, and Homeless. ]
Essential Considerations for Each Person in a Community: Wash Hands Often and Properly (see Video below) … Wear a Mask in Outdoor and Indoor Public Spaces (see WHO Guidance below) … Social Separation / Physical Distancing … Be Careful, Always … Pay Attention to Your Mental Health (see UN Policy Brief below).
First Affiliated Hospital, Zhejiang University School of Medicine, China
The First Affiliated Hospital has treated 104 patients who tested positive for CoVID-19 in 50 days. It has achieved zero deaths in patients diagnosed, zero patients misdiagnosed, and zero infections in medical staff. Its experts documented real treatment experience when combating the virus, 24 hours a day, and quickly published this Handbook.
Public Health Emergencies often lead to Stigma, Discrimination and Abuse towards certain communities and social groups, or affected people. Within the context of CoVID-19, this has already happened … with the disease being recklessly and maliciously associated with a specific population or nationality.
Independent Oversight & Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme
Established to facilitate on-line communication and collaboration internationally, as well as to provide Frontline Medical Teams around the world with the necessary communication channels to share practical experience about fighting, controlling and overcoming the pandemic.
The European Commission, together with several Partners, launched this Platform on 20 April 2020 … to enable the rapid collection and sharing of available Research Data. The Platform, part of the ERAvsCorona Action Plan (download PDF File, 153 Kb), is a significant effort to support Researchers in Europe and around the World in the fight against the CoronaVirus pandemic.
Vulnerable People, such as Those with Activity Limitations (#PwAL) or Disabilities (#PwD), are more impacted by #CoronaVirus/#CoVID19. These impacts can be mitigated if simple Self-Protection Measures are taken.
As Fire Departments and local Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s) continue planning to respond to CoronaVirus/CoVID-19 occurrences in their communities, the IAFC Coronavirus Task Force has developed a guide to identify best practices … and key recommendations which are based largely on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC – https://www.cdc.gov/) and the World Health Organization (WHO – https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019). When planning for CoVID-19, Fire Chiefs must also be sure to collaborate with local Stakeholders, both individuals and organizations !
2019-10-21: Following the very successful Rehabilitation International Asia-Pacific (AP) Conference in Macau, at the end of June 2019 … https://www.rimacau2019.org/ … I was invited by the United Nations Economic & Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP – https://www.unescap.org/) to submit an Article on ‘Fire Safety for All’ to one of their upcoming publications.
Fire Safety for All … for vulnerable building users, including people with disabilities, young children, frail older people, people with health conditions, and women in late-stage pregnancy … is a critical component of Accessibility & Usability for All … the key factor in facilitating full social participation and inclusion.
Consistent with the philosophy and principles of Sustainable Human & Social Development, a concept which continues to evolve with robust resilience (despite many challenges) … and the 2015-2030 Sustainable Development Framework Agenda … implementation is most effective if carried out at Regional Level … adapted to a Local Context.
Full and effective implementation, in each separate jurisdiction, then requires:
a robust legal base ;
determined political will to implement ‘fire safety for all’ ;
sufficient public financial resources for implementation – ‘fire safety for all’ is a social*, as distinct from a human, right ;
a compassionate and understanding bureaucracy, at all institutional levels ;
competent spatial planners, architects, structural engineers, fire engineers, quantity surveyors, technical controllers, industrial designers, building/facility managers, and crafts/trades people at all levels in construction organizations ;
independent monitoring of ‘fire safety for all’ performance – self-regulation is NO regulation ;
innovative, well-designed fire safety related products, systems and fittings which can be shown to be ‘fit for their intended use’.
[ *Social Rights: Rights to which an individual person is legally entitled, e.g. the right to free elementary education [Art.26(1), UDHR], but which are only exercised in a social context with other people, and with the active support of a competent legal authority, e.g. a nation state.
Commentary: In contrast to human rights, it is not protection from the state which is desired or achieved, but freedom with the state’s help.]
If Policy and Decision Makers are serious, therefore, about meeting the Safety Needs of Vulnerable People in Fire Emergencies … This Is An Absolutely Minimum Threshold Of Practical Action To Bring About Urgent Change …
Article for UNESCAP
Fire Safety for All – Nobody Left Behind !
The rising 21st Century Cities of the Asia-Pacific Region each encompass:
a) an interwoven, densely constructed core ;
b) a very large and widely diverse resident population ;
c) a supporting hinterland of lands, waters and other natural resources ;
together functioning, under the freedoms and protection of law, as …
a complex living system ; and
a synergetic community capable of providing a high level of social wellbeing* for all of its inhabitants.
[ *Social Wellbeing for All: A general condition – for every person in a community, society or culture – of health, happiness, creativity, responsible fulfilment, and sustainable development. ]
In all areas of life and living in this City Community, every person is equal before the law and is entitled, without any discrimination, to equal protection of the law*. When they are in a building, for example, all of its occupants and users have an equal right to feel ‘fire safe’ as required by law. This must also include vulnerable building users, particularly people with disabilities.
[ *Refer to Article 12 in the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has been ratified by nearly every country in the world, including the European Union … and Article 7 in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.]
Current national building codes – where they exist – do not protect vulnerable people in fire emergencies: many countries have no legal provisions answering this crucial need, while a small group of countries offer only token, i.e. inadequate, protection. An ethical*, technical response is urgently required, therefore, at regional level in Asia-Pacific. The social, political and institutional challenges blocking effective implementation are immense.
[ *Refer to the 2016 Dublin Code of Ethics: Design, Engineering, Construction & Operation of a Safe, Resilient & Sustainable Built Environment for All. Download from: www.sfe-fire.eu ]
Note: A Regional Implementation Strategy is already in the course of being developed for Asia-Pacific (AP).
Fire Safety for All … for vulnerable building users, including people with disabilities, young children, frail older people, people with health conditions, and women in late-stage pregnancy … is a critical component of Accessibility & Usability for All … the key factor in facilitating full social participation and inclusion. This design objective is achieved by equitable fire prevention and fire protection measures, essential occupant/user practices, independent fire evacuation procedures, proactive management and, as a last but necessary resort, reliable assisted evacuation and/or firefighter rescue.
In the Smart City, nobody must be left behind !
During the first critical 10-15 minutes in a fire emergency – the time between when a fire is first accurately detected, warnings are transmitted, and firefighters arrive at the building – many people with disabilities are more than capable of independent evacuation using reliably functioning lift/elevator fire evacuation assemblies. Independent use of lifts/elevators by people with disabilities is essential during a fire emergency … and must be facilitated.
The enormous benefit for those vulnerable individuals who are capable of negotiating horizontal and vertical circulation routes by themselves is being able to evacuate a building and reach a ‘place of safety’ in the company of other building occupants/users. They remain independent, in control of their own evacuation, and able to leave without waiting for someone else to rescue them or render assistance.
Buildings must remain structurally ‘serviceable’ until all building occupants/users and firefighters have reached a remote ‘place of safety’.
Management systems and fire protection measures in buildings are never 100% reliable. People with disabilities must, therefore, be trained to be self-aware in situations of risk, particularly in fire emergencies, and actively encouraged to develop the skills of self-protection and adaptive self-evacuation.
Essential Features At Building Design Stage
Fire Safety for All must be carefully considered at the initial stages of building design. To be effective, however, the following essential passive and active fire protection measures must be incorporated in buildings …
A. A smart ‘whole building’ fire emergency detection and multi-format warning system is an essential fire safety feature in all building types, new and existing. Vulnerable building occupants/users need much more time to react, and evacuate, than other users during a fire incident.
B. All building occupants/users must be provided with alternative, intuitive and obvious evacuation routes away from a fire outbreak in a building. A significant number of building users will never pass through the smoke generated by fire.
C. All fire evacuation routes in a building must be accessible for building occupants/users, and be sufficiently wide to accommodate contraflow, i.e. building users evacuating while firefighters enter the building at the same time. Under no circumstances must ‘stay put’ policies be normalized, or practiced.
D. Phased horizontal evacuation must be facilitated, in design, by providing ‘buffer zones’ around fire compartments, and adjacent ‘places of relative safety’.
E. All lifts/elevators in a building must be capable of being used during a fire emergency. This is already the case, in most countries, with firefighter lifts.
F. Fire protected evacuation staircases must be sufficiently wide (1.5m between leading handrail edges) to facilitate contraflow and the assisted evacuation of manual wheelchair users; they must open into fire protected lift/elevator lobbies at every floor/storey level, and open directly to the exterior at ground level.
G. Sufficiently large, fire protected ‘areas of rescue assistance’, where people can safely wait during a fire emergency, must adjoin each evacuation staircase on every floor/storey above ground level. When calculating space provision for evacuation and waiting areas in buildings, the minimum reasonable provision for people with disabilities must be 10% of the design building occupant/user population; for people with activity limitations, minimum space provision must rise to 15% of the design occupant/user population.
H. Such is the universal level of fire compartment unreliability, that lift/elevator lobbies and ‘areas of rescue assistance’ must be fitted with an active fire suppression system, i.e. water mist … an environmentally clean suppression medium which is person-friendly, and will not greatly interfere with visibility.
I. In tall, super-tall and mega-tall buildings, every 20th floor/storey must be an accessible ‘floor of temporary refuge’ … and the roofs of those buildings must be capable of being used for aerial evacuation.
J. In health care facilities, e.g. hospitals, the fire safety strategy must always be to ‘protect in place’. Patient evacuation is highly hazardous, and unacceptable.
K. Fire defence plans* must demonstrate a proper consideration for the fire safety, protection and evacuation of all building users/occupants, with a particular and integrated focus on people with activity limitations.
[ *Fire Defence Plan: A pre-determined and co-ordinated use of available human and material means in order to maintain an adequate level of fire safety and protection within a building and, in the event of an outbreak of fire, to ensure that it is brought speedily under control and extinguished … with the aim of minimizing any adverse or harmful environmental impacts caused by the fire.
Commentary 1: A Fire Defence Plan is developed for a specific building at design stage. It later becomes the basis for an occupied building’s Fire Emergency Management Plan.
Commentary 2: A Fire Defence Plan is usually in electronic format and/or hard copy and comprises fire engineering drawings, descriptive text, fire safety related product/system information, with supporting calculations, and the fire test/approval data to demonstrate ‘fitness for intended use’.]
2019-07-26: This time last month, in June … I was visiting a hot and humid Hong Kong and Macau, only 1 hour apart on a sea ferry, in China’s Bay Area … to make a Keynote CPD Presentation on Fire Safety for All – Nobody Left Behind ! in the Hong Kong Institute of Architects … and following that up with a full morning Workshop and an afternoon Plenary Presentation at the large 2019 Rehabilitation International Asia-Pacific Region Conference, in Macau, later in the week.
2019 Rehabilitation International Asia-Pacific Conference (Macau) – 26 to 28 June
The Theme of this 3-Day Conference, in #Macau, was Together, Leaving No One Behind, In Disability-Inclusive & Rights-Based Progress. Attended by 1,500 delegates from 30 different countries, the event also gathered together more than 250 international experts, practitioners, academics and researchers from all over the world.
Two Exhibitions, visited by 6,000 people, were organized alongside the Conference: 1) ‘Facilitation and Mobility Aids + Assistive Technologies’ … and 2) ‘Art’.
It is worthwhile noting that #China ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (#CRPD) on 1 August 2008 … but has not yet signed, never mind ratified, the Convention’s Optional Protocol … a clear signal of current political intent which, hopefully, will change in the not-too-distant future. Every year, Hong Kong and Macau submit reports to Beijing regarding CRPD compliance status and implementation.
Without being able to use a #Lift/#Elevator for Fire Evacuation in a building … there is No Fire Safety for All !
In a developing fire incident, People with Activity Limitations must be provided with a safe, alternative evacuation route – just like all other building users – which is a Fundamental Principle of all Fire Engineering. However … just one #User/#Occupant Fire Evacuation Lift/Elevator in a building is an empty, meaningless, Token Gesture !
‘Fire Safety for All’ on Macau TV News … Friday night, 28 June 2019 … my friend and colleague, Ar Joseph Kwan (Architect & Accessibility Consultant based in Hong Kong), is the person being interviewed …
Hong Kong Institute of Architects CPD Seminar – 24 June 2019
Continuing Professional Development (#CPD) is an important aspect of Ethical Architectural Practice. Arriving drenched in a heavy rain downpour on the Monday evening … I was not surprised, therefore, to find that this Seminar was well attended by local architects. Representatives of HK Authorities Having Jurisdiction (#AHJ’s), and Local Fire Services, as well as senior personnel involved in the development of the HK Code of Practice for Fire Safety in Buildings and the HK Barrier Free Design Manual were active participants in the panel discussion afterwards.
‘Fire Safety for All’ on Twitter … @firesafety4all
2019-04-08: A much needed ‘quickie’ for these worrisome times … a reminder for spineless politicians and an introduction for mindless citizens !
This is the United Nations …
And these are Articles 13, 14 and 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights … a fundamental constitutive document of the United Nations … which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, on 10 December 1948:
Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.
Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his/her own, and to return to his/her country.
Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Everyone has the right to a nationality.
No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his/her nationality, nor denied the right to change his/her nationality.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP – https://www.unenvironment.org/) has recently published the First Global Report on Environmental Rule of Law … which finds weak enforcement to be a global trend that is exacerbating environmental threats, despite the prolific growth in environmental laws and agencies worldwide over the last four decades.
The answer, of course, is rigorous implementation of environmental law … most particularly in those developed countries which have amassed their riches, over past centuries, from the plunder of natural, human and cultural resources in Central & South America, Africa and Asia.
If human society is to stay within the bounds of critical ecological thresholds, it is imperative that environmental laws are widely understood, respected, and enforced … and the benefits of environmental protection are enjoyed by people and the planet. Environmental rule of law offers a framework for addressing the gap between environmental laws on the books and in practice, and is key to achieving the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.
Environmental laws have grown dramatically over the last three decades, as countries have come to understand the vital linkages between environment, economic growth, public health, social cohesion, and security. As of 2017, 176 countries have environmental framework laws; 150 countries have enshrined environmental protection or the right to a healthy environment in their constitutions; and 164 countries have created cabinet-level bodies responsible for environmental protection. These and other environmental laws, rights, and institutions have helped to slow – and in some cases to reverse – environmental degradation and to achieve the public health, economic, social, and human rights benefits which accompany environmental protection.
The 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment brought the global environment into the public consciousness, leading to the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme. Following the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (known as the Rio Earth Summit), many countries made a concerted effort to enact environmental laws, establish environment ministries and agencies, and enshrine environmental rights and protections in their national constitutions. By the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, the focus had shifted to implementation of environmental laws, which is where progress has waned.
Too often, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations falls far short of what is required to address environmental challenges. Laws sometimes lack clear standards or necessary mandates. Others are not tailored to national and local contexts and so fail to address the conditions on the ground. Implementing ministries are often underfunded and politically weak in comparison to ministries responsible for economic or natural resource development. And while many countries are endeavouring to strengthen implementation of environmental law, a backlash has also occurred as environmental defenders are killed and funding for civil society restricted. These shortfalls are by no means limited to developing nations: reviews of developed nations have found their performance on environmental issues lacking in certain respects. In short, environmental rule of law is a challenge for all countries. This Report discusses the range of measures that countries are adopting to address this implementation gap – and to ensure that rule of law is effective in the environmental sphere.
As the first assessment of the global environmental rule of law, this Report draws on experiences, challenges, viewpoints, and successes of diverse countries around the world, highlighting global trends as well as opportunities for countries and partners to strengthen the environmental rule of law.
The Report highlights the need to undertake a regular global assessment of the state of environmental rule of law. To track progress nationally and globally, it is necessary to utilize a set of consistent indicators. The Report proposes an indicator framework for environmental rule of law and highlights existing datasets that may be utilized in support of the global assessment.
The Report also calls for a concerted effort to support countries in pilot testing approaches to strengthen environmental rule of law. Such an initiative could support testing of approaches in diverse contexts, and then adapting them before scaling them up. It should also foster exchange of experiences between jurisdictions to foster learning.
In addition to these two cross-cutting recommendations, the Report highlights numerous actionable steps that States can take to support environmental rule of law. For example, States can evaluate the current mandates and structure of environmental institutions to identify regulatory overlap or underlap. States and partners can build the capacity of the public to engage thoughtfully and meaningfully with government and project proponents. They can prioritize protection of environmental defenders and whistle-blowers. States may consider the creation of specialized environmental courts and tribunals, and use administrative enforcement processes to handle minor offences. And there is an ongoing need to research which approaches are effective under what circumstances.
The benefits of environmental rule of law extend far beyond the environmental sector. While the most direct effects are in protection of the environment, it also strengthens rule of law more broadly, supports sustainable economic and social development, protects public health, contributes to peace and security by avoiding and defusing conflict, and protects human and constitutional rights. As such, it is a growing priority for all countries.