For the 16th consecutive year, the 2018 Annual Meeting of the IUCN Environmental Law Academy (IUCN AEL) took place in Glasgow, 4-6 July 2018. The IUCN AEL Meeting was organized by the Centre for Environmental Law and Governance of the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow, Scotland). The purpose of these annual meetings is to fill the gaps in the knowledge of the global legal and environmental scientific community on issues of Environmental Legislation and Law.
The IUCN understood early on the role that law needed to play in the response to environmental challenges. In the early 1960s, the IUCN created the Commission of Environmental Law, comprised of individual experts from around the world who volunteer in the various specialist groups established by the Commission.
In 2003, recognizing the importance of promoting teaching and research in environmental law at the university level, the IUCN endorsed the idea of an Academy of Environmental Law at the First Colloquium in Shanghai, China. Since then, the Academy held its Annual Colloquia in different parts of the globe, in collaboration with their institutional members.
At the 16th Annual Meeting of IUCN AEL, a total of 66 parallel sessions were held with the participation of more than 400 participants. The LIFE Natura Themis project was selected after review of the relevant Abstracts to participate with a poster, which was presented by the Coordinator of the Environmental Law Observatory of Western Crete, Mrs. Maria Maniadaki, while at the aforementioned Meeting participated on behalf of the University of Crete - Natural History Museum of Crete the LIFE Project Coordinator, Dr. Michalis Probonas.
The topic addressed by the participants at this year's IUCN Environmental Law Academy Meeting is reflected in its title: "The Transformation of Environmental Law and Governance: Innovation, Risk and Resilience". Along with oral and poster presentations in the framework of IUCN AEL Meeting, the following questions tried to be answered: Is Environmental Law and Governance transforming itself? If so, to what extent are issues of risk, innovation and resilience at the heart of such transformation? Are risk, innovation and resilience mutually supportive in relation to this transformation?
The poster presentation of the LIFE Natura Themis project, entitled: "Monitoring of Environmental Law Compliance with the Help of Geographic Information Systems (GIS): The Case of the Environmental Law Observatories in Crete", was focused on the impact of the use of geospatial technologies on the more effective implementation of environmental legislation.
Some of the conclusions of the IUCN AEL Meeting were the following:
- Risk and innovation have a twofold relationship. When society has to deal with a risk, it often reacts by developing an innovation. At the same time, innovation and new technologies can create new risks that need to be properly addressed and regulated. Against this background, the Colloquium presented innovation in terms of “hard” and “soft” innovation. The former being the deployment of technology such as GIS or blockchain and the role of law in governing such new (or not so new) technologies. The latter being new innovative ways of thinking about environmental law and governance. Decentralized governance, rights of nature or strengthening of Procedural Law were all discussed in the framework of what has been labelled as soft innovation.
- Participants were challenged to come up with a working definition of what resilience means. After three days there was not a clear-cut definition of resilience, and probably there will never be and possibly there never should be one. However, key characteristics were fleshed out, such as the ability to cope, to adapt, to move on from failure and to anticipate change. More importantly, the Colloquium highlighted the need for resilience thinking in environmental law and governance. Legal systems need to be resilient and adaptive governance needs to be at the heart of environmental law.
- The reality is that risk, innovation and resilience are indivisible. A socio-ecological risk requires innovation (hard and/or soft) in order for the society that depends on that environment to become more resilient. If the international community progresses further towards awarding nature itself rights, the innovation needed to deal with the risk may make the environment per se more resilient. The challenge is to identify, develop and implement regulatory frameworks that encourage the mutual supportiveness, or indivisibility, of risk, innovation and resilience.
- What became clear throughout the three days is that risk, innovation and resilience were indeed present in the tapestry of the law in the field of energy, climate change, oceans, freshwater, land, food and agriculture and biodiversity. At the same time the tapestry has threads of litigation and human rights throughout. The tapestry of environmental law and governance is in constant evolution and transformation, there is no doubt about that. It is the role of environmental lawyers to be bold and understand the challenges in the transformation of environmental law and governance. However, and more importantly, it is also our role to embrace the opportunities that this complex tapestry gives us in order to push the boundaries of law and practice towards a less risky, more innovative and more resilient future.