Post Rio+20 and the World Congress: Progress made and the opportunities for the advancement of justice, governance and law for environmental sustainability

Wednesday 28 November 2012 , 1:00 - 2:30pm

As a contribution to the overall goals of the World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability, the first of a series of Brown Bag discussions entitled “Environmental Law in Focus” was held at the UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi on Wednesday the 28th of November 2012. The discussion was led by Prof. Iwona Rummel-Bulska (Professor of Environmental Law at the University of Nairobi and former principal legal officer, UNEP) and Mr. Bakary Kante (Director of the Division of Environmental Law and Conventions, UNEP) on the topic “Post Rio+20 and the World Congress: Progress made and the opportunities for the advancement of justice, governance and law for environmental sustainability.” The purpose of this function, which was attended by Nairobi University students UNEP staff and others interested in environmental law, was to create a forum for candid discourse on the importance of legal professions in pursuing environmental sustainability.

 After a warm welcome by Director Kante, Professor Rummel-Bulska spearheaded the discussion by making reference to some of the milestones that have helped shape environmental law as we know it. Amongst those mentioned were the Montevideo Programmes for the Development and Periodic Review of Environmental Law, the development of guidelines, often leading to the next steps of developing Multilateral Environmental Agreements, in areas such as waste, chemicals and the protection of the ozone layer to name a few. She also recalled recent UNEP guidelines on developing national legislation on Access to Information, Public-Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters and on liability in relation to the environment and the progress achieved in recognizing the role of environmental law and the rule of law at the Rio+20 Conference. 

 Prof. Rummel Bulska  went on to critically analyze these milestones in the development of environmental law, pointing out that one of the biggest challenges we face today along with the protection of human rights and the protection of rights of indigenous people, lies in the implementation of these environmental conventions and programmes.  However, she also pointed out that the continued creation of conventions should not be seen as a problem, because clear and reliable legal frameworks are needed as we evolve towards a more sustainable pattern. It is true however that there has been too little focus on enforcement, compliance and implementation hence the crucial and fundamental role of all relevant actors, including the legal professions, and those in charge of enforcement.. She stated that all stakeholders in the field of environmental law should embrace these conventions instead of rejecting them due to their numerousness.  

Professor Rummel-Bulska went on to describe the strengthening and upgrading of UNEP as a critical period in UNEP’s history and an opportunity not to be missed. For the first time in history, a UN Programme has been granted Universal Membership and as a consequence, the chance to revise its Rules of Procedure. This equally marks a greater opportunity in the field of environmental sustainability to work together towards achieving the goals agreed upon in the Rio+20 outcome document entitled “The Future We Want”.  

Marking the end of her presentation, a Q&A followed during which lawyers and students of law had a chance to discuss some of the key issues and concerns they had surrounding the relevant topics. Being one of the pioneers of environmental law herself, Professor Rummel-Bulska answered these queries with refreshing and well-informed replies and offered an invaluable insight into the future of environmental law and the road to achieving environmental sustainability through justice, governance and law.