Rigorous Implementation Of Environmental Law – A Priority !

2019-03-17:  Saint Patrick’s Day …

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP – 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.

UNEP: ‘Environmental Rule of Law – First Global Report’ (2019)

Download The Full UNEP Report Here …   (PDF File, 30.76 MB)

Executive Summary

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.




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SDSN’s Action Agenda for Sustainable Development & SDG’s ?!?

2013-05-23:  The U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, announced the launch of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) on 9 August 2012.

UN SDSN is structured around 12 Thematic Groups of scientific and technical experts – from academia, civil society, and the private sector – who work in support of Sustainable Development Problem Solving at local, national, and global scales … and to identify and highlight best practices.  They also provide technical support to the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Logo

The world has changed profoundly since the year 2000, when the UN Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) were adopted by the United Nations.  Four critical shifts make the coming fifteen-year period, 2015-2030, different from the MDG period, 2000-2015:  (i) a drastically higher human impact on the physical Earth;  (ii) rapid technological change;  (iii) increasing inequality;  and (iv) a growing diffusion and complexity of governance.

These problems will expand, dangerously beyond our control, without an urgent and radical transformation in how we organize society.  The world now needs an operational Sustainable Development Framework which can mobilize all key actors (national & local governments, civil society, business, science and academia) in every country to move away from the Business-as-Usual (BaU) Trajectory towards a Sustainable Development (SD) Path.  This Framework and the SDG’s identify the main objectives and strategies needed to transform from BaU to SD.

The purpose of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) is to help translate global aspirations into practical actions.  In this regard, SDSN has subscribed to the ‘Rio+20’ Agreement that the SDG’s should be ‘action-oriented, concise and easy to communicate, limited in number, aspirational, global in nature and universally applicable to all countries while taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development, and respecting national policies and priorities’.


SDI’s Comments on the Draft ‘Action Agenda for Sustainable Development & Sustainable Development Goals’ …

[ Submitted by e-mail, yesterday (2013-05-22), to the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network.]

1.   The problems with this Draft Document, dated 7 May 2013, are fundamental and profound.  Our Organization will be happy to assist the Network (SDSN) in improving the text.

2.   At this time, however, we would like to bring to your attention some urgent overarching issues:

  • Amend the Title … refer directly to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).  See above.
  • As drafted, the text does not show that … or explain how … there is a robust Interdependence between the different Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Indeed, the scale and immediacy of the Sustainable Development Challenges are unprecedented.  The Network (SDSN) must now, therefore, take the brave and difficult step of placing the Sustainable Development Goals in order of priority.  Do not allow yourselves to be shackled by the approach taken in the earlier Millennium Development Goals !
  • In this Document, All of the texts dealing with ‘Governance’ are ambiguous, weak and embarrassingly inadequate.  References to the Institutional, Political, Legal and Judicial Aspects of ‘Governance’ are both necessary, and required.
  • The word ‘access’ is used very often and very generally in the Document.  BUT … in order for People with Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF) to ‘access’ facilities and services in the Built (including Virtual), Social and Economic Environments, and to be included and participate fully in their local communities … it is an ESSENTIAL prerequisite that those Environments are effectively ACCESSIBLE-FOR-ALL !   This concept is not mentioned once in the Document … a very serious omission.



Updates:  2013-06-07 & 2013-07-22 …

The SDSN Final Report is Fundamentally and Profoundly INADEQUATE !

Immediately below that … see Extracts from the Letter of Navanethem Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, dated 6 June 2013 … addressed to All Permanent Missions in New York and Geneva.

UN SDSN's 'An Action Agenda for Sustainable Development' - Final Report Cover6 June 2013 – Final Report

UN SDSN’s ‘An Action Agenda for Sustainable Development’ (Final)

Click the Link Above to read and/or download PDF File (1.91 MB)


” Twenty years ago this June, the World Conference on Human Rights convened at Vienna to forge a new vision for our world, one founded on a recognition of the fundamental interdependence between democracy, development and human rights.  In the tail of a blood-stained and deprived century, the whispered call was for dignity, equality, justice, rights.  And what began as a murmur in Vienna grew in volume and force with each global conference: Copenhagen and Beijing in 1995, Durban in 2001, New York in 2005 and again in 2010, and Rio in 2012.  In recent years, the murmur has become a roar, echoing across societies on all continents, from victims denied redress, older persons denied respect, youth denied hope, and activists demanding a better way.  From this call, we have learned much about the imperatives of sustainable development.  There will be no development without equality, no progress without freedom, no peace without justice, no sustainability without human rights.”

“All that is required is the political will to move beyond the failed approaches of the past, to chart a fresh course, and to embrace a new paradigm of development built on the foundation of human rights, equality and sustainability.”

1.     The Post-2015 Agenda must be built on a human rights-based approach, in both process and substance.

2.     The new agenda must address both sides of the development challenge – that is freedom from both fear and want.

3.     The imperative of equality must underpin the entire framework.

4.     Marginalized, disempowered and excluded groups, previously locked out of development, must have a place in the new agenda.

5.     We must commit to ending poverty.

6.     The new framework must advance a healthy environment, as an underlying determinant of internationally guaranteed human rights.

7.     The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the right to an international order in which human rights can be fully realized.  Similarly, the UN Declaration on the Right to Development mandates international reform to ensure human rights-based policy coherence at the international level.  In the wake of the global financial, food, climate and energy crises, and in the context of growing disparities and historic governance failures at all levels, the credibility and effectiveness of the Post-2015 Agenda will therefore depend also on the degree to which it addresses this pressing need for human rights-based reforms at international level.

8.     The Post-2015 Agenda should be universally applicable.

9.     The Post-2015 Agenda must include a strong accountability framework.

10.   In the wake of the devastating global financial crisis, and revelations of abusive business practices in all regions, it is clear that responsibility for human rights-based development in the Post-2015 period must extend to actors in the private sector, as well.

6 June 2013 – United Nations OHCHR, Geneva

‘Human Rights in the Post-2015 Agenda’ – Letter from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to All Permanent Missions in New York and Geneva

Click the Link Above to read and/or download PDF File (642 Kb)




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