The world congress on justice, governance and law for environmental sustainability took place in Rio de Janerio, Brazil last week. The congress aimed to improve the effective implementation of environmental commitments, including multilateral environmental agreements. More than 150 judges, prosecutors, public auditors and enforcement agencies from around 60 countries attended the three day international conference which was organised by United Nations Environment Programme

The conference took place immediately prior to the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development, and was intended to be a forum where those who will be responsible for enforcing environmental law could make recommendations to encourage effective implementation of sustainability programmes which would be fed into the main Rio+20 discussions.

The UK Supreme Court was represented at the world congress by Lord Carnwath, who chaired a session entitled “The Role of Law in addressing new and emerging environmental sustainability issues: substantive challenges and opportunities“. This session resulted in a recommendation that public participation in decision-making should be encouraged, and that there should be improved access to justice and information in relation to environmental issues.

However, writing in The Guardian, Lord Carnwath said that “among the judges at the Rio+20 congress there was disappointment that the draft “common vision” document at the main event did not contain a more explicit commitment to extending these principles of how people, through the courts, can help effect real change, worldwide” saying that it appeared to the judges to be “something of a missed opportunity“.

That said, Lord Carnwath did comment that Rio+20 reaffirmed the international commitment to the fact that “laws are nothing without judges and courts familiar with the issues, with the power to enforce them, and able to provide accessible justice to individuals and representative agencies“.