Klaus Toepfer
United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UNEP

This issue of Our Planet is dedicated to the Millennium Development Goals and the rule of law.

While much can be achieved by voluntary action, from tackling extreme poverty to delivering safe and sufficient drinking water, the achievements will be even greater if underpinned by a sound legal structure and a vibrant judiciary. Nowhere is this more important than for the environment which, with economic and social development, forms part of the virtuous trio of pillars on which sustainable development depends.

Natural capital
Some may still view the environment as a luxury: they see a river or a forest as only worth conserving for its beauty when all other development-related issues have been resolved. But this natural capital is, along with the financial and human variety, the very foundation of health and wealth because of the ‘ecosystem services’ it provides. Some experts have calculated that these nature-based services – from the atmosphere and ozone layer to the globe’s wetlands and grassland – are worth $33 trillion a year, nearly twice the ‘world’ GNP of human-made goods and services of around $18 trillion.

Paper tigers
Until recently, the laws designed to protect this natural wealth – and its vital role in fighting poverty – have either been inadequate or patchily implemented. There are, of course, more than 500 international and regional agreements, treaties and arrangements covering everything from the protection of the ozone layer to the conservation of the oceans and seas. Almost all countries have national environmental laws. But unless these are enforced and complied with then they are little more than symbols, tokens or paper tigers.

Part of the problem has been that legal experts’ awareness of environment law – particularly, but not exclusively, in developing countries and the nations of the former Soviet Union – has not kept pace with the growth in agreements and with the recognition of the crucial importance of balancing environmental, developmental and social considerations in judicial decision making. Sometimes it is also due to a lack of resources, sometimes to downright apathy; but, whatever the cause, many environment-related cases fail to reach or succeed in court.

Increasing awareness
This goes to the heart of the Millennium Development Goals, as it affects billions of people. We are increasingly aware that what happens in one part of the world can affect other areas – be it toxic pollutants from Asia, Europe and North America contaminating the Arctic, or the greenhouse gases of the industrialized regions triggering droughts or the melting of glaciers in developing ones.

In 2002 UNEP convened a symposium of more than 100 senior judges from around the world to boost the training, knowledge and awareness of the world’s judiciary. They adopted the Johannesburg Principles on the Role of Law and Sustainable Development, which were presented to that year’s World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). The judges have since formed a Global Judicial Alliance with UNEP, giving greater attention to their role in advancing the Millennium Development Goals through the rule of law.

We have all been striving to realize the Johannesburg principles, and I am happy to report key successes. Only a few weeks ago, chief justices and legal experts from the Arab world met in Cairo and adopted the statute of the Arab Judges Union for the protection of the environment. A similar meeting involving the francophone countries will take place in Paris in February 2005, chaired by Guy Canivet, the chief justice of France. A European Union Judges Forum on the environment has been established, and comparable ones set up in Latin America, Asia, southern Africa and the Pacific. And the Government of Egypt is taking steps to establish a judicial training centre in Cairo.

Crucial development
At WSSD, Arthur Chaskalson, Chief Justice of South Africa, who co-hosted the symposium, said: ‘Our declaration and proposed programme of work are, I believe, a crucial development in the quest to deliver development that respects people and that respects the planet for current and future generations and for all living things. The rule of law is the basis for a stable country and ultimately stable world.’

I believe that, as a result of this two-year effort, the environment pillar of sustainable development is a little stronger and better able to carry forward the Millennium Development Goals


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This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Strengthening the rule of law | Partners in law | Justice can be shortsighted | Force of law | A matter of judgement | A law of energy | People | Rule of man, or rule of law? | At a glance: The rule of law | Sebastião Salgado | Sustainable development comes from Saturn! | One planet, different worlds | Nature’s wisdom | Kickback fightback | Conflict and cooperation | Holistic landmark | Empowering the poor | Legal climate | Small is effective | Building the framework

Complementary issues:
Climate Change 1997
Ozone 1997
Climate and Action 1998
Energy 2001
World Summit on Sustainable Development 2002