ASEAN Chief Justices Explore Legal Solutions to Environmental Threats

Published on Tuesday, 26 November 2013

MANILA, PHILIPPINES – Legal responses to cross border threats from climate change, pollution, deforestation and the illegal trade in wildlife and timber are at the top of the agenda at a meeting of Chief Justices from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Bangkok, Thailand.

“Southeast Asia, one of the world’s most bio-diverse regions, faces huge shared environmental challenges, and the judiciary plays a critical role in addressing them,” said Kala Mulqueeny, Principal Counsel at the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which is a co-organizer of the event. “The region’s judiciaries must also ensure that environmental laws are properly applied and that the judicial process in environmental matters is accessible and fair to all groups, particularly affected communities.”

The Third ASEAN Chief Justices Roundtable on the Environment, which is gathering from 15-18 November, provides an opportunity for the region’s Chief Justices and senior judiciary to come together to share experiences, and consider ways they can collaborate to enforce and even shape effective environmental law for the region. ADB is convening the event with the Supreme Administrative Court of Thailand.

Southeast Asia’s ecosystems, including its forests ― which cover nearly 50% of member countries’ combined land area ― are under assault from the region’s rapid development, industrialization and expanding population. The rampant trade in illegal logging and wildlife, pollution, and a disturbing increase in the frequency and severity of climate-linked disasters pose an escalating threat to shared natural resources and the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on them.

Over the past decade ASEAN members have been active in drawing up or improving environmental protection laws. There have been many successes, including recent high profile seizures of illegal elephant ivory in Indonesia and prosecutions of companies involved in forest burn-offs which caused a smoke haze that drifted as far away as Canada. However, many legal challenges remain.

As well as looking at the role the judiciaries can play in protecting and preserving shared natural resources, the roundtable will consider issues such as access to environmental justice, the application of interim relief measures and alternative disputes resolution mechanisms in environmental cases, and the enforcement and execution of court orders. Thorny questions like how the courts could or should respond to climate change-related disputes, and how judiciaries can collaborate and build international links to respond to illegal logging, wildlife poaching, and pollution, are on the agenda.

The meeting will also explore future opportunities for judicial cooperation, which will be considered at the upcoming Second Asian Judges Symposium to be held at ADB headquarters in Manila on 3-5 December 2013. ADB supported the Inaugural Roundtable in 2011 with the Supreme Court of Indonesia, and the Second Roundtable in 2012, with the Federal Court of Malaysia.

ASEAN member countries include Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam.