One planet,
different worlds

Bakary Kante
describes UNEP’s work in advancing the Millennium Development Goals through the rule of law

The poor and the rich share at least one inescapable common fate: they live on the same planet and depend on the same natural resources for their survival. Nevertheless they live in two separate worlds. The poor – who to a large extent operate outside the money-based economy – have close ties with the environment, especially in rural areas. The rich – who ‘create’ and use the money-based economy – exploit the resources of the environment without really being part of it. The rich contribute with varying degrees of violence to the destruction of our natural habitat; the poor depend on it to survive.

In recent years the links between poverty and the environment have been a key concern of UNEP. Studies clearly demonstrate how important environmental factors are in the fight against poverty. If we fail to integrate ecosystem usage and protection in national, regional and global poverty reduction strategies they will be doomed to failure.

Clear link
In a major UNEP initiative seeking to establish links between the Millennium Development Goals, the rule of law, and the development and implementation of environmental law, more than 100 chief justices and senior judges – including 32 chief justices – from some 67 countries representing all regions and legal systems of the world gathered in Johannesburg in August 2002 on the eve of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) to participate in a Global Judges Symposium on Sustainable Development and the Role of Law. They there unequivocally affirmed their commitment to the pledge made by world leaders in the Millennium Declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2000 to spare no effort to free all of humanity – above all our children and grandchildren – from the threat of living on a planet irredeemably spoilt by human activities, with resources no longer sufficient for their needs. They drew a clear link between poverty and the environment, recognizing that the poor are the most affected by environmental degradation and that, therefore, there is an urgent need to strengthen their capacity – and that of their representatives – to defend environmental rights. The judges will work towards ensuring that the weaker sections of society are not prejudiced by environmental degradation and are enabled to enjoy their right to live in a social and physical environment that respects and promotes their dignity.

The judges emphasized that the rule of law is not an abstract legal notion but fundamental to ensuring the sustainable use of the Earth’s resources within its carrying capacity. They unanimously declared that the fragile state of the global environment requires the judiciary, as the guardian of the rule of law, boldly and fearlessly to implement and enforce applicable international and national laws. These will help alleviate poverty, sustain an enduring civilization, and ensure that the present generation enjoys and improves the quality of life of all peoples without compromising the inherent rights and interests of succeeding ones.

The judges recognized the key role that they play in integrating the human values set out in the United Nations Millennium Declaration – freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature and shared responsibility – into global civilization, and committed to translating them into action through strengthening respect for the rule of law at all levels.

Crucial partner
The judiciary is clearly a crucial partner in developing, interpreting, implementing and enforcing environmental law. It plays a key role in promoting sustainable development, by balancing environmental, social and developmental considerations in judicial decisions. Courts of law in many countries have demonstrated sensitivity to promoting the rule of law in sustainable development through judgements and pronouncements. More than 200 of these judgements have been summarized and published in the UNEP Compendium of Summaries of Environment-related Cases.

UNEP’s work focusing on the judiciary began in 1996 with a modest meeting of magistrates from some ten African countries. Spurred by the growing support for this programme among judges from all regions of the world, UNEP went on to convene, in association with several global, regional and national partners, seven regional chief justices symposia on environmental law, sustainable development and the role of the judiciary. These took place in South Asia (1997), Southeast Asia (1999), Latin America (2000), the Caribbean (2001), the Pacific (2002), Eastern Europe (2003) and the Arab countries (2004). A meeting of chief justices of the francophone countries will be convened in Paris on 3 and 4 February 2005, in partnership with the President of the Cour de Cassation of France and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie.

Major initiative
The symposium in Johannesburg was a direct result of a call made to the Executive Director of UNEP at the regional chief justices meetings. Its outcome, the Johannesburg Principles on the Role of Law and Sustainable Development, was presented to the United Nations Secretary-General and to the WSSD by its Chair, the Honourable Justice Arthur Chaskalson, Chief Justice of South Africa.

The outcomes of this major UNEP initiative are, in summary:

Full participation
Success in tackling environmental degradation relies on the full participation of everyone in society. The judiciary, as the final arbiter in human affairs, plays a key role in promoting the effective application and enforcement of environmental law, and in strengthening respect for the rule of law and principles of governance. The ultimate objective of this broadly conceived programme is to address not just the judiciary but all legal stakeholders who play a key role in developing, implementing and enforcing environmental law, as one of the principal instruments for translating environment and development policies into action

Bakary Kante is Director, Division of Policy Development and Law, UNEP.

PHOTOGRAPH: Vitali Saveliev/UNEP/Topham

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:
Poverty, Health and the Environment 2001
Globalization, poverty, trade and the environment 2003