The IUCN Environmental Law Centre (ELC) was created in 1970 by administrative decision of IUCN to strengthen its support for the growing law programme. At the end of the sixties, the IUCN law programme consisted of a Commission-directed work programme under the guidance of the Commission Chair, Wolfgang Burhenne, and a small staff and office in Bonn, Germany which was temporarily being supported by an outside grant. To ensure stability and continuity of work, this small Commission staff became the new Environmental Law Centre. IUCN's young law programme was sustained relatively intact with this administrative decision and grew to become a major player in international environmental law and policy.

The Environmental Law Centre remained in Bonn as an out posted unit of the IUCN Secretariat and in this capacity became an important link between the Commission, its members worldwide, and other Commissions with which the Secretariat worked. The Union's expanding activities in law, policy and administration became joint endeavors between the Commission and IUCN Secretariat represented by the Law Centre. In turn, the Law Centre, as an integral part of the IUCN Secretariat, enabled the Union to consider more systematically and comprehensively legal aspects of environmental affairs.

Work Programme

The substantive programme of the Centre developed along three broad areas: information management, providing advisory services, and drafting law and policy instruments. Carrying over from the former programme, the Centre's first priority was to continue to build, organise, store and more efficiently be able to retrieve the growing collection of legislative and related materials coming to the Centre on request or complimentary. Recognized as the foundation for any law and policy work, this collection was a priority for the Centre's work programme, and with the help of core funds and grants, the collection was developed from a few manila envelopes of country-labeled materials coded manually on index cards in the sixties to a computerized Environmental Law Information System (ELIS) of some 19,000 texts from 130 jurisdictions by the mid-seventies. The collection was recognized by the 12th General Assembly of IUCN in 1973 the "largest multi-national collection of documents on environmental law."

The Centre's second priority function, providing advise and assistance in conservation law and policy, became increasing active as the body of international environmental law grew from the seventies onward. Working with the Commission, Centre staff participated in review and analyses of existing draft texts and their sufficiency for natural resource conservation and undertook associated surveys of implementation issues. In addition, the Centre's advisory services also increased directly with the Secretariat in the form of legal opinions related to in-house matters as well as with member states and organisations on specific aspects of environmental legislation about to be enacted or already in place.

Third and closely associated with the two functions above was the Centre's growing involvement in drafting efforts both with international treaties and national legislation. Experience had been gained during the sixties and early seventies with the African Convention and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). As new treaty areas were identified, the Centre regularly became involved, in some instances in a lead technical role, working closely with Commission experts at the request of other organisations, governments, or members. Examples where draft texts were prepared by the ELC include the Migratory Species Convention and subsidiary instruments, the ASEAN Agreement, the Biodiversity Convention, and World Charter for Nature.

Staffing and management

The Centre began in 1970 with one full-time lawyer position and maintained a modest size thereafter. The combination of modern computer facilities, volunteer expertise and a small core staff has enabled the expansion, development and operation of an efficient law programme.

In addition to core support from IUCN, the Centre depends heavily on volunteer services of Commission members, special secondments, visiting researchers, interns, and outside fund-raising for specific projects. One of the first project supporters was the European Community which funded both a pilot and follow-up project in the early 1970s to computerize environmental legislation of the EEC countries. When available, project-tied funding is used for consultants, and special grants have assisted with data processing equipment and associated data processing needs from time to time. Over the years, the Centre has received project funding from a variety of bilateral and multilateral donors, among which the Netherlands and Denmark played and important role.

Germany has also been a consistent supporter of the ELC, as well as the Commission, both with projects and infrastructure. In 1999, through the generosity of the German government, the IUCN Environmental Law Centre and the Commission on Environmental Law moved into new offices put at the disposal of IUCN on a long-term basis.

The Head of the ELC since its beginning and until her semi-retirement in 1999 has been Francoise Burhenne- Guilmin who has received numerous honors and recognitions for her dedicated life-long service to the field of international environmental law and for helping build the IUCN law programme into what it is today.

  • ELC building

    IUCN Environmental Law Centre building in Bonn, Germany

    Photo: IUCN Environmental Law Programme