Environmental Rule of Law: First Global Report

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January 2019
United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment)

As the first assessment of the global environmental rule of law, this Report draws on experiences, challenges, viewpoints, and successes of diverse countries around the world, highlighting global trends as well as opportunities for countries and partners to strengthen the environmental rule of law.

The report details the many developments in environmental law since 1972, including the adoption of a constitutional right to a healthy environment by 88 countries, with another 65 countries having enshrined environmental protection in their constitutions. In addition, over 350 environmental courts and tribunals have been established in over 50 countries, and more than 60 countries have at least some legal provisions for citizens’ right to environmental information.

Among other recommendations, the Report calls for a concerted effort to support countries in pilot testing approaches to strengthen environmental rule of law and highlights the ongoing need to research which approaches are effective under what circumstances. It also spotlights actionable steps that States can take to support environmental rule of law, including evaluation of current mandates and structure of environmental institutions to identify regulatory overlap or underlap, building public capacity to engage thoughtfully and meaningfully with government and project proponents, and prioritization of the protection of environmental defenders and whistleblowers including through the creation of specialized environmental courts and tribunals, and use of administrative enforcement processes to handle minor offenses. 

The report notes that the benefits of environmental rule of law extend far beyond the environmental sector. While the most direct effects are in protection of the environment, it also strengthens rule of law more broadly, supports sustainable economic and social development, protects public health, contributes to peace and security by avoiding and defusing conflict, and protects human and constitutional rights. As such, it is a growing priority for all countries.