Why is Effective Environmental Protection and the Rule of Law Important to Preserve Virunga?

Strengthening the rule of law is critical to protecting environmental, social, and cultural values and to achieving ecologically sustainable development. 

Photo MONUSCO/Abel Kavanagh Virunga National Park

Without the environmental rule of law and the enforcement of legal rights and obligations, environmental governance, conservation, and protection may be arbitrary, subjective, and unpredictable. 

Photo MONUSCO/Abel Kavanagh Virunga National Park

The environmental rule of law and robust institutions are essential to respond to increasing environmental pressures that threaten the ecological integrity of the Earth, in a way that respects fundamental rights and principles of justice and fairness,

Kanyabayonga, Democratic Republic of the Congo

The environmental rule of law should thus serve as the legal foundation for promoting environmental ethics and achieving environmental justice, global ecological integrity, and a sustainable future for all, including for future generations, at local, national, sub-national, regional, and international levels.

© MONUSCO Myriam Asmani / North Kivu
  1. Foundations of the Environmental Rule of Law

The environmental rule of law is understood as the legal framework of procedural and substantive rights and obligations that incorporates the principles of ecologically sustainable development in the rule of law. Strengthening the environmental rule of law is the key to the protection, conservation, and restoration of environmental integrity. Without it, environmental governance and the enforcement of rights and obligations may be arbitrary, subjective, and unpredictable,

The environmental rule of law is premised on key governance elements including, but not limited to:

  1. Development, enactment, and implementation of clear, strict, enforceable, and effective laws, regulations, and policies that are efficiently administered through fair and inclusive processes to achieve the highest standards of environmental quality;
  2. Respect for human rights, including the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment;
  3. Measures to ensure effective compliance with laws, regulations, and policies, including adequate criminal, civil, and administrative enforcement, liability for environmental damage, and mechanisms for timely, impartial, and independent dispute resolution;
  4. Effective rules on equal access to information, public participation in decision-making, and access to justice;
  5. Environmental auditing and reporting, together with other effective accountability, transparency, ethics, integrity and anti-corruption mechanisms; and
  6. Use of best-available scientific knowledge.

2. General and Emerging Substantive Principles for Promoting and Achieving Environmental Justice through the Environmental Rule of Law

Principle 1 Obligation to Protect Nature

Each State, public or private entity, and individual has the obligation to care for and promote the well-being of nature, regardless of its worth to humans, and to place limits on its use and exploitation.

Principle 2 Right to Nature and Rights of Nature

Each human and other living being has a right to the conservation, protection, and restoration of the health and integrity of ecosystems. Nature has the inherent right to exist, thrive, and evolve.

Principle 3 Right to Environment

Each human, present and future, has the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.

Principle 4 Ecological Sustainability and Resilience

Legal and other measures shall be taken to protect and restore ecosystem integrity and to sustain and enhance the resilience of social-ecological systems. In the drafting of policies and legislation, and in decision-making, the maintenance of a healthy biosphere for nature and humanity should be a primary consideration.

Principle 5 In Dubio Pro Natura

In cases of doubt, all matters before courts, administrative agencies, and other decision-makers shall be resolved in a way most likely to favour the protection and conservation of the environment, with preference to be given to alternatives that are least harmful to the environment. Actions shall not be undertaken when their potential adverse impacts on the environment are disproportionate or excessive in relation to the benefits derived therefrom.

Principle 6 Ecological Functions of Property

Any natural or legal person or group of people, in possession or control of land, water, or other resources, has the duty to maintain the essential ecological functions associated with those resources and refrain from activities that would impair such functions. Legal obligations to restore ecological conditions of land, water, or other resources are binding on all owners, occupiers, and users of a site, and liability is not terminated by the transfer of use or title to others.

Principle 7 Intragenerational Equity

There shall be a fair and equitable sharing of the benefits of nature, including appropriate access to ecosystem services. There shall be a fair and equitable sharing of efforts and burdens. Natural resources shall be used and managed in an ecologically sustainable manner.

Principle 8 Intergenerational Equity

The present generation must ensure that the health, diversity, ecological functions, and beauty of the environment are maintained or restored to provide equitable access to the benefits of the environment by each successive generation.

Principle 9 Gender Equality

Gender equality shall be incorporated into all policies, decisions, and practices in recognition of the often-disproportionate impacts of environmental degradation on women and girls, and their key role in achieving sustainability.

Principle 10 Participation of Minority and Vulnerable Groups

The inclusion of minority and vulnerable groups and perspectives across generations, shall be actively addressed with regard to effective access to information, open and inclusive participation in decision-making, and equal access to justice.

Principle 11 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples

Indigenous and tribal peoples’ rights over, and relationships with, their traditional and/or customary lands and territories shall be respected, with their free, prior, and informed consent to any activities on or affecting their land or resources being a key objective.

Principle 12 Non-regression

States, sub-national entities, and regional integration organisations shall not allow or pursue actions that have the net effect of diminishing the legal protection of the environment or of access to environmental justice.

Principle 13 Progression

In order to achieve the progressive development and enforcement of the environmental rule of law, States, sub-national entities, and regional integration organisations shall regularly revise and enhance laws and policies in order to protect, conserve, restore, and ameliorate the environment, based on the most recent scientific knowledge and policy developments.

Appeal to the World Community

States, sub-national governments, regional integration organisations and other relevant international organisations, legislators, civil society, and the private sector are urged to contribute to the building, maintenance, and promotion of the environmental rule of law based, on the aforementioned principles, as part of their shared responsibility to present, as well as future generations.

Source: IUCN World Declaration on the Environmental Rule of Law

This Declaration was adopted at the IUCN 1st World Congress on Environmental Law, co organised by the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law, the United Nations Environment Programme, the Organization of American States, the International Association of Judges, and other key partners, in April 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, (Brazil). It was finalized by the Steering Committee of the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law on 12 February, 2017. It does not represent a formally negotiated outcome and does not necessarily reflect the views of any individual, institution, State, or country represented at the Congress, or their institutional positions on all issues, and neither necessarily the views of any member of the WCEL Steering Committee.