At a glance:
The Rule of Law

Environmental law has been a priority for UNEP since its establishment in 1972. It has played a pioneering role in the development of multilateral environmental agreements (some of the most important of which are featured on this spread) and continues to do so, constantly providing support for updating conventions and developing new protocols. It also promotes the development of voluntary instruments in areas not yet covered by legally binding ones, and prepares legal studies on emerging issues. The Law Programme also includes capacity building of legal stakeholders including judges, technical assistance for strengthening national legal regimes, and the provision of legal materials and information in the field of environment.


INDIA: Subhash Kumar v State of Bihar
The right to life enshrined in Article 21 (of the Indian Constitution), includes the right to enjoyment of pollution-free water and air for the full enjoyment of life. If anything endangers or impairs the quality of life, an affected person or a person genuinely interested in the protection of society would have recourse to Article 32. Public interest litigation envisages legal proceedings for vindication or enforcement of fundamental rights of a group of persons or community which are not able to enforce their fundamental rights on account of their incapacity, poverty or ignorance of law.

PHILIPPINES: Juan Antonio Oposa and others v the Honourable Fulgencio S. Factoran and another
As matter of fact, these basic rights need not even be written in the Constitution for they are assumed to exist from the inception of humankind. If they are now explicitly mentioned in the fundamental charter, it is because of the well-founded fear of its framers that unless the rights to a balanced and healthful ecology and to health are mandated as State policies by the Constitution itself, thereby highlighting their continuing importance and imposing upon the State a solemn obligation to preserve the first and protect and advance the second, the day would not be too far when all else would be lost not only for the present generation, but also for those to come – generations which stand to inherit nothing but parched earth incapable of sustaining life.

PAKISTAN: Ms Shehla Zia and others v Wapda
Where life of citizens is degraded, the quality of life is adversely affected and health hazards are created affecting a large number of people, the Supreme Court in exercise of its jurisdiction under Art. 184(3) of the Constitution of Pakistan may grant relief to the extent of stopping such activities that create pollution and environmental degradation.


Legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons, advisory opinion
The environment is not an abstraction but represents the living space, the quality of life and the very health of human beings, including generations unborn. The existence of the general obligation of States to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction and control respect the environment of other States or of areas beyond national control is now part of the corpus of international law relating to the environment.

Case concerning the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros project (Hungary/Slovakia)
Throughout the ages, mankind has, for economic and other reasons, constantly interfered with nature. In the past, this was often done without consideration of the effects upon the environment. Owing to new scientific insights and to a growing awareness of the risks for mankind – for present and future generations – of pursuit of such interventions at an unconsidered and unabated pace, new norms and standards have been developed, and set forth in a great number of instruments during the last two decades. Such new norms have to be taken into consideration, and such new standards given proper weight, not only when States contemplate new activities but also when continuing with activities begun in the past. This need to reconcile economic development with protection of the environment is aptly expressed in the concept of sustainable development.

Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol

Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety

Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

Number of Parties to selected conventions


The Handbook provides judges in all types of tribunals, both civil and common law jurisdictions, with a practical guide to basic environmental principles and issues that are likely to arise in litigation. It includes information on environmental law and references to relevant cases. Judges in each particular country supplement this overview with more detailed information drawn from national experiences, laws and traditions.

The Handbook discusses legal issues likely to come up before national courts so that judges may be better equipped to discharge their key role in breathing life into those environmental requirements upon which the world’s collective heritage depends.

The publication of the UNEP Judges Handbook on Environmental Law, in English and French in February 2005, and in Arabic later in the year, is a response to the request made by the chief justices and other senior judges from some 100 countries to the World Summit on Sustainable Development by the 2002 Global Judges Symposium held in Johannesburg.

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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