Sustainable Development Leadership Program: Green Courts and Environmental Lawyers: Achieving Environmental Justice and Sustainable Development

14 September 2012

Event Tabs


The objectives of the session are for participants to understand that:

  • environmental enforcement is critical to achieving sustainable development,
  • the legal community, led by Chief Justices and the Senior Judiciary can play critical roles in national legal communities as champions of the rule of law and environmental justice; by promoting environmental law enforcement, as well as developing environmental jurisprudence and generating knowledge and action to help halt environmental crises and promote sustainable development, and
  • buttressed by government, public interest environmental lawyers play critical roles in effective environmental enforcement and educating the lay population of their constitutional and legal rights.


Constitutional rights to a healthy environment, and good environmental laws protecting forests, oceans, marine-life, and wildlife, and requiring environmental impact assessments for new development projects, exist in abundance in many countries in the Asia-Pacific. Yet, everywhere such environmental rights and laws exist, there are abundant examples of them being denied, going unimplemented, or unenforced.

Violations of an individual’s constitutional rights to a healthy environment deserve no less vindication than other constitutional rights. Environmental crimes – such as illegal logging, the illegal wildlife trade, and illegal fishing are no less grievous than other crimes, and potentially more so. Environmental law violations by private sector operators such as failure to obtain planning approvals or environmental impact assessments can cause equally devastating damage on the environment and harm to local communities, while the failure of ministries and government departments to comply with their own laws, involves breaches of public duties. However, while government’s and stakeholders seeking to promote sustainable development and avoid climate change often bemoan challenges of weak governance, and a lack of enforcement of environmental laws, these issues are not widely tackled with dedicated efforts and resources: where environmental law is violated, broader issues of weak governance, crime, and corruption, are often at play.

Effective implementation and enforcement of environmental law requires that each actor in the chain involved in enforcing environmental laws – police, environmental officers, prosecutors, and judges, has knowledge of the laws, the capacity to implement them, and little incentive for corruption. Additionally, public interest environmental lawyers – trained lawyers concerned to represent communities and plaintiffs who have suffered environmental harm from a private actor’s violation of an environmental law, or a government official’s breach of its public duty on environment – must also have the knowledge, skill set, resources, and legal right to bring cases to challenge violations. Public and private actors subject to environmental law must believe that such laws will be upheld and that they will be held to account, if they are breached.


This session will look into the critical role played by the judiciary and government and public interest environmental lawyers in ensuring an effective environmental enforcement chain. It will also consider the role of regional and subregional networks of Chief Justices and judicial and public interest environmental legal champions, in promoting environmental justice. While the role and powers of the judiciary vary across countries in the Asia Pacific, the judiciary – as a key arm of government – upholds written constitutions, adopts international environmental law principles through national legal jurisprudence, and decides the application and enforcement of national environmental laws. Chief Justices and the senior judiciary also lead the legal profession and law enforcement community in pursuing the integration of sustainable development and environmental justice within strong national rule of law systems. Moreover, government prosecutors, and government environmental lawyers must bring environmental violations to court, while public interest environmental lawyers and known world-wide and across the region for shifting environmental jurisprudence towards greater environmental protections.