World’s top judges agree to promote the enforcement of environmental laws

Over 100 senior judges from around the world have agreed to promote understanding of environmental law among those in the legal system, and to improve access to justice for environmental disputes, following two days of talks in Johannesburg.

“We are strongly of the view that there is an urgent need to strengthen the capacity of judges, prosecutors, legislators and all persons who play a critical role at national level in the process of implementation, development and enforcement of environmental law,” say the judges in a statement adopted on 20 August. The judges from over 60 industrial and developing nations were meeting in Johannesburg prior to the start of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).

The judges agreed four principles designed to guide the judiciary in promoting sustainable development. These are:

  • a mandate to implement, develop and enforce the law;
  • to realise the goals of the Millennium Declaration of the UN General Assembly, which include development and poverty eradication, and the environment;
  • that there is an urgent need for a concerted programme of work to educate and train members of the judiciary in the field of environmental law; and
  • that collaboration among members of the judiciary within and across regions is essential.

Law has been the poor relation of the worldwide effort to deliver sustainable development, said United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. “We have over 500 international and regional agreements, treaties and deals covering everything from the protection of the ozone layer to the conservation of the oceans and seas,” he said. “Almost all, if not all, countries have national environmental laws too. But unless these are complied with, unless they are enforced, then they are little more than symbols, tokens, paper tigers.”

The judges also agreed on a programme of work to promote their principles. These include improving environmental law education in schools, and the achievement of sustained improvement in compliance with environmental law. The judges also plan to strengthen regional and global collaboration on exchanging information in order to allow each other to benefit from knowledge, experience and expertise in the field of environmental law.

“Our declaration and proposed programme of work are, I believe, a crucial development in the quest to deliver development that respects people and that respects the planet for current and future generations and for all living things,” said Justice Arthur Chaskalson, Chief Justice of South Africa, who hosted the symposium.

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