Date: Mar 13, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Establishing an environmental rule of law
Hiba Huneini
The annual United Nations Environment Program assembly started Monday under the theme “Innovative Solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption & production.”

The assembly gathers heads of states, ministers, representatives of the private sector and civil society to discuss how to decrease pollution and build a greener global economy. A high-level segment will commence Thursday to include statements from countries and a multistakeholder dialogue on the theme of the assembly.

The world is discussing at the highest levels its environmental challenges and how to mitigate their implications on the coming generations’ socioeconomic livelihood. The undebatable fact is that the destiny of humanity is closely linked to our ability to change our destructive behavior with nature and its resources.

Diplomatic tensions and armed conflicts are in many cases linked to the disputes over natural resources and environmental violations. According to UNEP, at least 40 percent of internal conflicts over the last 60 years have a link to natural resources.

For this reason, environmental issues are nowadays a crosscutting theme on the international agenda of sustainable development.

Lebanon is raising the red flag on the environmental crisis which we are suffering from at different levels. The sea is being polluted from solid waste and sewage pipelines and illegal trash sites are spread all over the coastline.

Urbanization has put pressure on coastal cities resulting in a series of infrastructural violations. The unregulated extraction of sand and rocks has had a detrimental impact on our mountains and nature.

Solid waste has been a major national crisis that the country is suffering from without a strategic and concrete solution up to this moment, however - as a positive step - the current council of ministers has set this matter as a national priority and is seeking funding for a series of major projects.

As for the pollution of the Litani River, it is another environmental disaster that has an impact on our lives through various ways - without having any proper social awareness on its dangerous risks.

The area of Litani River constitutes around 20.8 percent of the area of Lebanon where 9 percent of the Lebanese population reside. Eighty percent of the river basin is in the Bekaa Valley and 20 percent in the South. This river contributes to the irrigation system for thousands of hectares of farmland and to the water needs of around a million people.

However, the Litani River, instead of contributing to the socio-economic well-being of the community, has been transformed into a poisoning trail that constitutes a major threat to public health and the spread of diseases.

Problems which are related to the environment and its sustainability are complex ones: they involve various actors and interconnect with main other issues.

Environmental sustainability efforts are often hindered by supporters of exponential economic growth, climate change denial, and a global brinkmanship game.

In short, the major problem lies in governance and rule of law.

We are in a need of a governance system that is conscious about the scarce resources which humanity has and the fact we are experiencing a true application of the tragedy of the commons.

To reach that model of governance, societies need to democratically restore the concept of “Environmental Rule of Law,” which deals directly with the enforcement of environmental legal rights and obligations. Like any other policy question, if rule of law is absent, environmental governance will be arbitrary, discretionary, subjective, and unpredictable.

The UNEP has been the first global institution to recognize the concept of environmental rule of law at its first universal session in 2013. The UNEP’s Governing Body adopted Decision 27/9, on Advancing Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability. This is considered the first internationally negotiated document to establish the term “environmental rule of law.” The decision is dealing directly with the reinforcement of the international, regional and sub-regional organizations to combat noncompliance with environmental laws.

The direct ties between the violation of environmental regulations and the failure of sustainable development efforts - on top of which are the SDGs - has been well-established by the global policy and research institutions.

Another global mechanism is the Global Judicial Institute for the Environment, which plays a significant role in supporting the application and enforcement of the environmental rule of law.

To conclude, Lebanon shares global concerns around the sustainability of the environment and hence needs to reinforce this marriage and incorporation between legal frameworks of procedural and substantive rights and obligations and the principles of ecological sustainable development.

This conceptual integration between the democratic and legal concept of the rule of law and environmental sustainability is the only way to hinder our current environmental challenges and maintain the wealth of the next generation.

Hiba Huneini is manager of the youth and civic engagement program at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email her at [email protected]

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 13, 2019, on page 3.