Sustainable Development + Rule of Law

Kirsty Schneeberger | 12 years ago

The 26 March 2012 saw the launch of the World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability – a congress of Judges, Attorneys-General, public prosecutors and Minister of environmental justice and many other experts in the legal world. The congress aims to bring the importance of implementation, compliance, and enforcement to the centre of the Rio+20 outcomes. The actual Congress takes place in Rio de Janeiro on 17-20 June 2012 and the launch message was clear: one of the three main objectives of Rio+20 is to review gaps in implementation and this must be a focus of any outcome document that is agreed in June.

As lawyers and judges, the panel was keen to emphasise the critical role that compliance and enforcement plays in achieving sustainable development. Cletus Springer, Director of the Department of Sustainable Development for the Organisation of American States, suggested that the following equation must guide thinking when developing the policy outcomes for Rio:

Sustainable Development – Rule of Law = Environmental Degradation

Or to put it another way, if the Rule of Law not strong enough to provide compliance and enforcement mechanisms of sustainable development policies, then environmental degradation will continue, due to a lack of environmental protection.

The World Bank reinforced the argument for strengthening the Rule of Law by offering a perspective from the investment world: that it is much more difficult to invest when there is no coherent global policy framework of compliance and enforcement of sustainable development policies. Having a more robust legal framework and stronger Rule of Law practices at both the international and national level will result in investor confidence.

Finally, in the summation remarks Justice Antonio Herman Benjamin stated that he is “most concerned about the five year period after Rio” – the period when the outcomes will be put in place and implemented through both existing, and new, legal mechanisms. “One of the paradigm shifts we have seen since Rio in 92” he continued “is that we better understand that laws by themselves do not mean much.” Without effective mechanisms for enforcing the laws, he stressed, the gap between paper laws and practice continues to widen. He urged the congress, and others involved in the Rio+20 process, to “close the disconnect between legal scholarship and practice”, learn from the lessons of weak implementation, and understand that a declaration alone will not be enough to achieve sustainable development.

With that rally cry from the judges and legal practitioners, we can all look ahead, not just to Rio, but beyond – and especially to those first five years when any outcomes will be transposed from soft law principles or high level agreement into hard law practices. It would be both an embarrassment and a shame on this generation if, in twenty years’ time, the gaps in implementation – due to weak compliance and enforcement mechanisms – continue to undermine the transition to sustainable and just societies, and compromise the ability of future generations to live healthy, happy, and safe lives. So perhaps we might consider the following equation on the path to Rio and beyond:

Sustainable Development + Rule of Law = Safeguarding the future for generations to come.

Kirsty Schneeberger is the senior project officer for the Stakeholder Forum. This post was first published in Outreach. ERIC Ltd is very grateful for her permission to reproduce it here.

About the author

Kirsty Schneeberger

Kirsty is an environmental advocate and campaigner. She is Climate Change Manager at the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. Her interest includes climate change and the environmental inheritance we leave to future generations.