A Look Back at AJNE in 2018

Published on Wednesday, 30 January 2019
Group photos from 2018 AJNE events

2018 was a busy year for the environment and climate change issues. The year was one of the warmest - well within the top 10 and continuing the trend of breaking historical temperature records (recent reports actually say it is the warmest on record!). Some species famously became nearly extinct - the last known male North African White Rhino passed way, and the talkative blue parrot Spix’s Macaw, made famous by an animated children’s film, has gone extinct in the wild, with just 50 remaining in captivity. Severe weather events hit different parts of the globe: wildfires in the US and Canada; heatwaves in Europe and Pakistan; flooding in India, Nigeria, and Japan; and the earthquakes and tsunami in Indonesia.

The year also saw some positive developments. Environmental consciousness got a boost, with more people shunning plastic-use and choosing to live more sustainable lifestyles. Renewable energy use, such as solar and wind, continued its upward trend, with more electricity being fed into the grid and becoming cost competitive. The global climate change legal regime also took a promising step with the adoption of the Paris Rulebook in Katowice.

All these developments in 2018 took place alongside the work and activities of the Asian Judges Network on Environment (AJNE). In the past year, judges from around the world have reaffirmed and strengthened their commitment to protect the environment and address climate change. Landmark decisions from around the globe have continued the trend of litigation. The network also continues to grow with renewed support and commitment from the Pacific countries.

Three major activities of AJNE took place in 2018. The year started with the Asia Pacific Judicial Colloquium on Climate Change: Using Constitutions to Advance Environmental Rights and Achieve Climate Justice. Held on 26-27 February in Lahore, the event assembled over 300 international judges, lawyers, and other legal stakeholders to discuss the role of constitutions and the judiciary in advancing environmental rights and climate justice. One special feature of the event was the interactive sessions between international and local participants. Here judges, lawyers, and advocates exchanged ideas on constitutional rights, effective adjudication and dispute resolution, and best practices in dealing with environment and climate issues. A significant result of this gathering – young lawyers from Lahore and around Pakistan were encouraged to shift their practice to environmental law and take on more public interest litigation cases.

The Lahore Colloquium was followed by a national training program in Bhutan on environmental adjudication. Over 50 judges and court officers nationwide completed the interactive workshop on 19-20 July. Experts from India, Pakistan, New Zealand, and the United States went to Thimphu, Bhutan to provide the program. Taking into account global best practices and recent developments, the event discussed and presented important topics such as: a) developments in environment and climate change litigation; b) developing special rules of procedures for environment and climate change cases; and c) handling special evidence. The participating judges were also given an opportunity to discuss and comment on the draft green benchbook and rules of procedures for the green bench. The international resource speakers also provided comments to the rules and benchbook. The Bhutan Supreme Court plans to roll-out the rules soon, and also to sustain the knowledge sharing and capacity building initiatives for its judges.

AJNE’s year was capped-off by the Asia Pacific Judicial Conference on Environmental and Climate Change Adjudication held on 29–30 October in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar. The event was a continuation of the annual judicial and chief justices’ conferences organized under the banner of AJNE since 2011. This was an event of many firsts. For the first time, judges from South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific came together to discuss pressing environmental and climate change issues. The conference was the first international event organized and hosted by the Supreme Court of Myanmar. It was also one of the first judicial gatherings, organized by ADB so far, that focused on broader climate change and sustainable, inclusive and resilient development issues. Positive stories were also shared at how grassroots initiatives can make a big impact, showing judges that their decisions have consequences for people across all walks of life.

In Myanmar, Asia and Pacific judges along with their partner-judges from around the world reaffirmed their commitment to protecting the environment and addressing climate change. Old partnerships were strengthened and new ones were forged. In 2019, AJNE looks to continuing and expanding its work by engaging more closely with the Pacific judiciaries – who have in turn expressed interest in deepening collaboration with fellow judges in the region. Judges themselves also continue to initiate efforts at building their capacity for environment and climate change cases – developing benchbooks and knowledge products, establishing green courts, instituting a curricula on environment and climate change law in judicial academies, and improving cross-linkages and exchange of ideas with other judiciaries. AJNE also seeks to continue its strong partnership with other international organizations and bodies such as UN Environment and the Global Judicial Institute on Environment, among many others. 

ADB will also begin rolling-out a series of knowledge products on climate change litigation in Asia and the Pacific. These set of blogs, working papers, and articles will provide essential information that judges, legal practitioners, and environmental advocates can use for cases and litigation. Regularly visit the AJNE website for updates and releases. 

2019 is gearing up to be another busy and challenging year for the environment and climate change issues. Expect more litigation around the world on climate-vulnerable people (i.e., refugees, women and children, urban poor, migrants), loss and damage, and challenging government policies back tracking on certain progress. People will continue to hold their governments and leaders, as well as businesses and industries accountable, thus courts will be called to enforce and protect rights and settle disputes even more. Countries will be scrambling to put the Paris Rulebook into effect, whilst continuing efforts to meet targets and commitments made to stop global warming. Judiciaries around the world will continue efforts to strengthen environmental rule of law, and play its crucial role in this age of climate change.