Steering Committee charts course for next 4 years

The WCEL Steering Committee met from 10-13 February in Brazil for their first in-person meeting of 2017 hosted at the National High Court of Brazil (STJ) in Brasilia. The meeting agenda consisted of a “high-level preparatory segment”, consultations with partners in the Global Judicial Institute for the Environment (GJIE), and a formal Steering Committee meeting including a site visit to Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the state of Goiás.

Waterfalls Parque Nacional Chapada dos Veadeiros Photo: IUCN WCEL

Utilizing videoconferencing facilities of the STJ, the meeting was able to accommodate a high volume of participation among the Steering Committee and distinguished invited guests. The objectives of the meeting allowed WCEL to continue building upon its accomplishments in the previous IUCN quadrennial period (2013-2016) as it now develops a new strategic plan and work plan up to 2020. Furthermore, the Steering Committee laid the groundwork for ensuring continued growth and cooperation with the goal of building the environmental rule of law as the legal foundation for environmental justice.

The preparatory segment on the first day allowed for the Steering Committee to interact with senior WCEL members to discuss the new strategic plan, assess the prior work of Specialist Groups, and constantly improve in the future. As an invited guest, Yann Aquila, President of the Environment Committee of the Club des Juristes in Paris presented an initiative by Laurent Fabius, President of the Constitutional Council of France, to begin development of a “Pact for the Environment”. Building on IUCN’s Draft International Covenant on Environment and Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Pact is intended to be a single legal document containing the fundamental principles of environmental law.

Meeting in closed sessions the next day, the Steering Committee approved the membership of 77 new applicants and agreed on procedures for boosting recruitment well-beyond the over 1,400 members having served in the period 2013-2016. Reports were also provided by key partners from the IUCN Environmental Law Centre, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP, “UN Environment”), and the Organization of American States (OAS). Discussion highlighted the strong partnerships that delivered the 1st World Environmental Law Congress in April 2016 and resulted in the establishment of the Global Judicial Institute for the Environment (GJIE) and the IUCN World Declaration on the Environmental Rule of Law.

In addition to a presentation by Justice Mike Wilson titled “Global Judicial Institute for the Environment: Judicial Response to a Planet Under Siege”, distinct attention was paid on the third day to the work of Specialist Groups and the commission’s overall communication strategy. The ten Specialist Groups are the main conduit for WCEL to organize and achieve its objectives. Therefore, deliberations focused on how best to align the thematic focus of each group with the impending work to implement the IUCN Programme 2017-2020 and achieve the SDGs. It was decided to establish a new “Forests Specialist Group”. Updating existing groups and creating Joint Specialist Groups to enrich collaboration across the six IUCN Commissions is ongoing.

The commission’s effective communication going forward rests on a four-pronged approach: 1) boosting knowledge generation and conveying the wealth of WCEL activities to a broad audience; 2) close cooperation between the Steering Committee and Specialist Groups; 3) collaboration across the Union with IUCN Members, the Director General, Heads of Global Programmes, Directors of Regional Offices, and Chairs of all commissions;  and 4) Engaging all potential partners, with special emphasis on longstanding relationships with the IUCN Environmental Law Centre, the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law, the Global Judicial Institute for the Environment (GJIE), UN Environment, the Organization of American States, and the International Council of Environmental Law (ICEL). In this connection, a decision was made to launch a new newsletter with the title “World Environmental Law News” to reflect the wide range of contributions expected.

On the final day, the Steering Committee formally released the IUCN World Declaration on the Environmental Rule of Law and planted a number of Ipê trees in the grounds of the STJ garden in honor of the late Wolfgang E. Burhenne and his wife Françoise Burhenne-Guilmin. In closing the meeting, it was emphasized that WCEL has high potential to capitalize on the acheivements of the past four years and mobilize its membership to urgently provide much-needed expertise across the world. Two events planned for May 2017 in Brasilia aim to do just that:

  • 19-21 May: 2nd Meeting of the Global Judicial Institute for the Environment
  • 22-23 May: Regional Judicial Colloquium for Latin America and the Caribbean titled “Constitutions, Environment, and Human Rights: Practice and Implementation” under the auspices of the Federal Senate of Brazil 


Justice Mike Wilson
Presentation on “Judicial Response to a Planet Under Siege” (see Downloads):

"The naturally occurring ecosystems upon which human life depends are being destabilized by the carbon-based economy.  The impending catastrophic consequences of destabilization are galvanizing many to seek protection through environmental law.  The courts - international, national and subnational - are often the fora of last resort sought to protect human health and biodiversity.

One of the world’s most acclaimed environmental jurists, Brazilian Justice Antonio Benjamin, has described climate change as the single most important legal issue facing judges globally.  Justice Benjamin has led the collaborative effort of jurists from national and subnational jurisdictions to form the Global Judicial Institute for the Environment (GJIE) capable of providing specialized knowledge that will equip judges to apply the environmental rule of law to issues arising from climate change, global warming and pollution.

The presentation recounts the problem posed by unmitigated carbon emissions, the legal framework developed by world leaders to address the problem and the responsibility of the courts to apply the environmental rule of law with independence and a robust understanding of relevant science and law.  The Global Judicial Institute for the Environment has as its signature purpose supplying judges with ample capacity to decide the increasingly complex legal issues that accompany the world community’s struggle to cope with a deteriorating environment."

Work area: 
Environmental Law
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