This compelling new report solves the mystery of why problems such as pollution, declining biodiversity and climate change persist despite the proliferation of environmental laws in recent decades.
Weak enforcement of environmental law is a trend that is exacerbating environmental threats worldwide, according to a major new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The report presents the first ever global assessment of environmental laws. It found that the number of environmental laws created has grown 38-fold since 1972, including the adoption of a constitutional right to a healthy environment in 88 countries, and the creation of over 350 environmental courts and tribunals in over 50 countries.
However, while international aid helped scores of countries to enter into more than 1,100 environmental agreements since 1972, and develop many environmental framework laws, neither aid, nor domestic budgeting, has led to the creation of strong agencies capable of effectively enforcing laws and regulations.
Harassment and killing
Factors contributing to poor enforcement include poor coordination across government agencies, weak institutional capacity, lack of access to information, corruption and stifled civic engagement.
David Boyd, UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment said: “This compelling new report solves the mystery of why problems such as pollution, declining biodiversity and climate change persist despite the proliferation of environmental laws in recent decades.”
Unless implementation and enforcement is strengthened, even rules that appear to be rigorous are destined to fail and the fundamental human right to a healthy environment will go unfulfilled, he added.
The report also highlights growing resistance to environmental laws which has led to the harassment and killing of environmental defenders. Between 2002 and 2013, 908 people, including forest rangers, government inspectors, and local activists, were killed in 35 countries, with 197 killed in 2017 alone.
Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for the Ecologist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.