United Nations Environment Programme
environment for development Search 
News Centre
 Home News Centre
 Media Contacts
 Press Releases
 In Focus
 RSS / Podcasts

 Printable Version

Speech delivered at the Inauguration of the Global Judges Symposium by Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme

Your Excellency Mr. Jacob Nzuma, Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa,

Hon Justice Arthur Chaskalson, Chief Justice of South Africa and the host of this Symposium,

Hon. Minister P.M. Maduna, Minster of Justice and Constitutional Development,

Hon. Mohamed Vali Moosa, Minster of Environmental Affairs and Tourism,

Hon. Ministers, Hon. Chief Justices, and Judges,

distinguished participants and guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure, on behalf of the United Nations Environment Programme, to welcome the distinguished Chief Justices and Senior Judges from around the world to the UNEP Global Symposium on Sustainable Development and the Role of Law. Let me at the very outset thank the Hon. Chief. Justice of South Africa, Justice Chaskalson for agreeing to host this important event, and the Government of South Africa for their generous support and assistance in its organization.

In a few days, the world's eyes will turn to Johannesburg as the World Summit on Sustainable Development begins. The motto for the summit has become "making it happen" - and if it is successful, our hopes and goals for meeting the world's needs now and for future generations will be the subject of a tangible, realistic plan of implementation.

But everyone here understands and knows that implementation of the laws supporting sustainable development is not a new or recent development. The distinguished jurists in this room have had the task of ensuring that laws have the breath of life imparted to them through thoughtful, just, and vigorous implementation and enforcement. The world's judges have played a vital, though often under-appreciated role in our long and shared effort to achieve sustainable development.

It is for this reason that UNEP felt it was so important to bring you all together on the eve of the World Summit and for this reason we are so grateful to have your participation. Sustainable Development itself, and the laws supporting its economic, social and environmental pillars are nothing more than words on paper without implementation. And implementation is impossible without fair, independent and learned jurists.

Since its inception thirty years ago, UNEP has given leadership to the progressive development of international environmental law, through its sponsorship and support for the negotiation of international legal instruments of global and regional significance and actively supporting developing countries and newly independent states in the formulation and implementation of environmental law regimes.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, has expressly recognized as one of the most notable achievements of UNEP its "contribution to the initiation, negotiation and support of some of the most important treaties that have been agreed in the international field."

It is that last factor - "support" of the law - that has lasting impact. The initiation and negotiation of any law, be it national or international, is a finite accomplishment. The support, implementation, interpretation and enforcement is an ongoing task. The adoption of Agenda 21 ten years ago in Rio indicated that the world was ready to work towards a common goal; in retrospect, this was relatively easy compared to the task that lies before us now: the development of a workplan for achieving that goal. We can take encouragement, however, in the knowledge that many more recent developments in environmental law and law in the field of sustainable development suggest we can achieve integrated, practical solutions for implementation.

The adoption of the Aarhus Convention less than a year ago indicates that we are beginning to appreciate how inter-related public participation, human rights, and environmental conservation are. The development and adoption of UNEP's Guidelines on Compliance with and Enforcement of Multilateral Environmental Agreements a few months ago heralds our renewed dedication to ensuring that sound environmental laws are not just developed, but fully implemented.

Never before have so many distinguished chief justices and other senior judges from national and international courts and tribunals from developing and developed countries ever met to discuss any branch of law. This unique gathering is itself testimony to their conviction that the judiciary is essential for the realization of sustainable development, and should be systematically highlighted and fostered.

The fragile state of the global environment, swaying at the edge of sustainability, has been compared to a spider's web: whichever point is touched, the ripple that it creates impacts on every point of the web. Thus, for example, global warming impacts on desertification, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, change in weather patterns, which in turn give rise to floods, famines and droughts, with devastating consequences for all forms of life on earth. Tragically, it is the poorest segments of the population that suffers most from these consequences, losing not only their livelihood, but life itself. This point has not gone unnoticed by the judges who participated in UNEP's six Regional Judges Symposia, who have highlighted this fact borne by their own judicial experience.

Success in combating environmental degradation is dependent on the full participation of all actors in society. It is essential to forge a Global Partnership based on a reaffirmation of Human Values set out in the United Nations Millennium Declaration: Freedom, Equality, Solidarity, Tolerance, Respect for Nature, and Shared Responsibility. The Judiciary has a key role to play in weaving these values into the fabric of contemporary global civilization. One of the key ways of translating these shared values into actions is through strengthening respect for the rule of law in international as in national affairs. The Judiciary has a pivotal role in that respect.

Holding this Symposium shortly before the World Summit on Sustainable Development provides a unique opportunity to convey a strong message from you to the world - the practical, useful perspective of the independent body in governance charged with interpreting and enforcing the law. Your message can guide and inform the Summit. I feel certain that the Symposium will take full advantage of the judiciary's unique reservoir of expertise and experience in this field, to examine ways and means of fostering a well-informed judiciary for advancing compliance, enforcement and enhancement of national and international environmental law.

I hope that the Global Judges Symposium which, to us, is of a special character and significance, will lay a strong foundation for a strategic partnership with you and the judicial systems worldwide that you represent, for the pursuit of the principles and goals of sustainable development.

I wish the Symposium every success.