How ADB got judiciary to lead work on the environment

Published on Thursday, 14 January 2016

At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst, stated Aristotle on man’s potential to damage the planet. Realizing that judiciary plays a key role in enforcing environmental rule of law leading to private sector investment and ultimately resulting in economic development, Office of the General Counsel (OGC) at ADB started working with the Asian judiciaries in 2010. Irum Ahsan, Senior Counsel, OGC writes about what you may ask yourself: What has judiciary got to do with environment? A lot actually and here is what this is all about.

The Asian Judges Network on Environment (AJNE) was started at the Asian Judges Symposium attended by senior judiciaries. Under this initiative, judicial roundtables have been held in South and Southeast Asia. Asia is the only region in the world which convenes Chief Justices’ roundtables dedicated to environmental justice – and ADB is the only regional multilateral development bank supporting such meetings.

It’s good to be part of ADB’s efforts on safeguarding environment and climate change adaptation and mitigation but it is especially heartwarming when other development banks and organizations reach out to us for replication of our work in their jurisdictions.

AJNE has a dedicated website which provides laws, rules, regulations, and case laws of several Asian countries. In addition, proceedings from the Roundtables and country reports have been published and are also available online.

Recently, in collaboration with the Supreme Court of Nepal and supported by WWF-Nepal, OGC hosted the Fourth South Asia Judicial Roundtable on Environmental Justice in Kathmandu, Nepal and the Fifth ASEAN Chief Justices’ Roundtable on Environment in Siem Reap, Cambodia in collaboration with the Supreme Court of Cambodia.

Building on the momentum from the previous roundtables, the Kathmandu roundtable continued the dialogue on environmental issues plaguing the region, as well as the discussion on emerging international trends and developments. The event took place during very challenging times for the people of Nepal – the earthquakes, as well as the more recent political and fuel crises – which made disaster-resilient development a recurring theme during the roundtable. The international participants commended the resilience demonstrated by the earthquake-affected nation and paid their tribute to the ones who lost their lives.

The participants discussed environmental justice, the post-2015 agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, the emerging concept of climate justice, urbanization, biodiversity and natural resource conservation, and community initiatives on environmental protection. The need for regional cooperation and approaches was highlighted, as well as the judiciaries’ role as keepers of the law in light of climate change.

At the end of the Nepal Roundtable, the judges agreed on the Kathmandu Resolution for Judicial Cooperation in Ensuring Sustainable Development, Climate Change Resiliency, and Protection of Environment in South Asia. The judges reaffirmed their continuing commitment to promote environmental protection and climate change mitigation and adaptation through more effective jurisprudence in South Asia.

Among the key issues discussed at the Siem Reap Roundtable were balancing the realities of economic development  and the need for environmental protection. Capacity development needs  were recognized in areas like environmental damage assessment,  statutory penalties, the technical and financial issues of clean-up,  restoration and remediation, public interest environmental litigation  and promoting environmental law education and training.

The roundtable also highlighted the significant progress made in creating national and regional working groups on environment, “greening benches” and building capacity for environmental adjudication, including judicial certification programs on environment.

Siem Reap Roundtable was concluded with Angkor Statement of Commitment to ASEAN Judicial Cooperation on the Environment. The judges reaffirmed their commitment Jakarta Common Vision and Hanoi Action Plan and to continue cooperation by sharing information amongst ASEAN Judiciaries in combating environmental challenges facing the region, including information on jurisprudence, environmental laws and specific environmental penalties, and promote environmental law education and training.

At a time when the international community converged in Paris for COP21 and is at a crossroads at how to concretely tackle climate change, the commitment and dedication of Asian judges seen during these roundtables is a welcome initiative. In a region where millions of people are already affected by climate change, with increasing numbers expected in the coming years, the people of Asia have as their champions the judiciaries of the region. Environment and climate justice has been given a boost in Nepal and Cambodia, other regions of the world should watch closely as Asia continues to lead the push for a greener and more sustainable world.

Participants at these roundtables included chief justices, senior judges and multidisciplinary experts from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka from South Asia and Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam from ASEAN, as well as from Brazil, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Here are some of memorable quotes from the roundtables:

“Nature doesn’t need human beings to exist but humans need nature to live.” – Justice Swantanter Kumar from Indian Green Tribunal

“Earthquakes don’t kill people, bad buildings do-its more important to take action prior to the disaster.”– Justice Qazi Faez Isa from Pakistan Supreme Court

“Women are affected more than men by the impacts of climate change.”– Sara Khan, the 17 years old speaker from Pakistan

“Billions of people are living in slums worldwide- what development are we talking about?”– Saima Amin Khawaja from Pakistan.

Many of the SDGs are focused on issues related to environmental justice. ASEAN judiciaries have a key role to play by progressing and further developing a domestic and regional environmental jurisprudence that respects the principles of sustainable development and strengthens the rule of environmental law.”- Christopher Stephens from ADB

“Environmental challenges including domestic and transboundary, are common problems that require countries in the region and the world to work together to address them – with a view to ensuring national sustainable development and aiming toward improving the quality of life of all people.” – Dith Munty, President, Supreme Court of Cambodia

“ADB is now addressing not just the judges working in their own national jurisdictions but is trying to look at environmental issues as regional, or in some cases, planetary environmental problems” – Justice Antonio Benjamin from Brazil

For more information on the 4th South Asia Judicial Roundtable, please visit this page.