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Symposium at UNEA Brings Legal Community Together to Boost Environmental Rule of Law

The Global Symposium on Environmental Rule of Law, held at the first United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, brought together Chief Justices, Heads of Jurisdiction, Attorneys General, Auditors General, Chief Prosecutors, lawyers and legal experts to raise awareness of the role of environmental law as an indispensable tool in achieving sustainable development and a Green Economy.

Recent research confirms that only 4 out of 90 of the world's most important environmental goals have registered significant progress. The financial toll of just one aspect of this shortfall on the global economy, that from international organized environmental crime, is US$70 to 213 billion annually, according to the joint UNEP-INTERPOL report, The Environmental Crime Crisis. The human toll is even greater: UNEP estimates that at least 40 per cent of internal conflicts over the last 60 years are linked to the exploitation of natural resources.

The symposium was delivered in two sessions. The first session explored different aspects of environmental rule of law as it relates to human rights and accountability. The second session dealt with the key components of enforcing environmental law. Following the official opening of the symposium by Deputy Chief Justice of Kenya, Kalpana Rawal, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner described UNEA as a global platform that offers environmental law makers, implementers and enforcers a unique opportunity to spotlight the indispensable role of the rule of law in the protection, preservation and sustainable management of natural resources, and the protection of human rights.

Mr. Steiner said that he was impressed by the interest in the symposium, seeing all of those present as critical players in fostering the environmental rule of law, which he described as an issue that should concern everyone, and not just lawyers. "Without UNEA, this group of stakeholders would likely never have convened at such a high-level event, and in such great numbers to discuss the pivotal role of the rule of law in ensuring our transition to a more sustainable and inclusive global economy," said Ms. Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General, of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN),

Justice Antonio Benjamin from the High Court of Brazil- also Secretary General, UNEP International Advisory Council for Environmental Justice and Secretary General, UNEP World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability-led the interactive discussions on some of the most critical aspects of environmental rule of law as it relates to human rights and accountability. Presenting a judicial perspective on human rights and the environment, Justice Winston Anderson, Caribbean Court of Justice, described environmental rule of law as an essential means of correcting social and economic injustices. Justice Benjamin also charted the journey of human rights and the environment from 1972, when an overlap between the two was first acknowledged, to its constitutional recognition vis-à-vis landmark cases heard in the Inter American and European Courts of Human Rights.

"The rule of law is a key tool to address inequalities, and environmental rights should be enshrined in constitutions and conventions," he said. "Although there is a transnational culture of environmental protection, an international court for the environment should be established."Effective access to information, public participation and access to justice were described as important for transparent and accountable governance and to strengthen the public's trust in governing institutions.

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