Pro-environment activists hold a banner while calling for the passing of the "Alternative Minerals Management Bill" mining law during a rally in front of the Senate building in Pasay City, Philippines. Photo by: REUTERS / Romeo Ranoco

CANBERRA — A report from the U.N Environment Programme released last month seeks to make governments look beyond environmental law, and focus on gaps in implementation.

The report analyzes the global environmental rule of law and provides an important evidence base to help advocacy efforts on proper enforcement of laws.

“Governments talk about how good their laws are but they don’t necessarily talk about how these are being implemented.”

— Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, U.N. special rapporteur for the rights of indigenous peoples

“There are existing good laws in terms of environmental law, but the real problem is the implementation of these laws,” U.N. special rapporteur for the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, explained to Devex.

“That is always a concern — governments talk about how good their laws are but they don’t necessarily talk about how these are being implemented. It is only when people directly affected speak up that you see the implementation is far from being achieved,” she added.

UN report details global failure to enforce environmental laws

The first report of its kind makes a critical case for strengthening environmental rule of law.

NGOs are among the advocates being encouraged to use the report as a tool for change and to push for government action on environmental management and protection. Speaking with Devex, environmental law experts discussed the gaps that advocacy can help fill.

The case for advocacy

Advocacy needs to build a case for change. Lead report author Carl Bruch, director of international programs at the Environmental Law Institute, told Devex the report is a “business case” for why environmental law needs to be implemented and enforced.

“It highlights the benefits for public health, for community livelihoods, for national economies, for fighting corruption, in maintaining peace and security,” he said. “It highlights the business case for why it is good for everyone to adhere to the various laws and regulations that have been adopted.”

Environmental laws globally, Bruch explained, were implemented for a variety of reasons that go beyond the environment. Economic factors, health factors, and more contributed to the need for legislation. And this, he says, is important for governments to be reminded of.

The report also builds a case for what can be achieved now and in the future if the same level of energy for change is applied. While it is an important reminder of this history and business case, advocates to help push the message are critical.

Linked advocacy

Arnold Kreilhuber, deputy director of U.N. Environment’s law division, explained to Devex that linking the implementation of environmental law to human rights was an important way to advocate for change.

“Almost four environmental defenders are killed each week for standing up for their rights,” Kreilhuber said. “It is very important as citizens increasingly become aware of their environmental rights to put pressure on different stakeholders to have these rights observed. There really does need to be a level playing field when it comes to accessing environmental information, participation, and access to justice.”

Another important area of linked advocacy is indigenous rights and indigenous law. For Tauli-Corpuz, the report provides an important evidence base to advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples to land that is linked to their culture, history, and livelihoods.

The report highlights barriers to legal systems faced by indigenous peoples, as well as the exploitation of natural resources.

“Indigenous peoples territories are commonly where valuable natural resources are found,” Tauli-Corpuz explained. “For companies focused on extracting resources, they will seek to get what they want .. You can see these conflicts happening — indigenous people living off the land will defend their right to continue living there ... leading to conflict when companies don’t adhere to standard for protecting and respecting indigenous peoples.”

She is encouraging more advocates — including NGOs — to support the push for governments to take indigenous rights and environmental laws seriously.

Gaps in legislation and implementation

In highlighting the gaps between environmental law and implementation, the report also raises questions about legal gaps. Laws and regulations are continually being developed to support a range of global needs — including economic development, security, health, education, equality and more, but legal gaps aren’t being addressed.

By building a case for advocates to ask for more than just legal change, it pushes them to demand action with set targets that can be monitored.

About the author

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.