Weak enforcement of environmental law is one of the greatest barriers to halting climate change, reducing pollution and preventing biodiversity loss, a UN study has warned.
In a new report, UN Environment said that aid and domestic spending had failed to establish strong agencies capable of enforcing environmental laws and regulations worldwide.
Poor coordination across government agencies, weak institutional capacity, lack of access to information, corruption and stifled civic engagement are also largely responsible.
This is despite a 38-fold increase in the number of environmental laws introduced globally since 1972, including the adoption of a constitutional right to a healthy environment in 88 countries.
“Many of these laws have yet to take root across society, and in most instances, the culture of environmental compliance is weak or non-existent,” director of international programmes at the Environmental Law Institute, Carl Bruch, said.
The report reveals that over 350 environmental courts and tribunals have been established in more than 50 countries over the last four decades, and 60 have at least some legal provisions for citizens’ right to environmental information.
However, Bruch said that funding is too often focused on very specific areas of the environment, resulting in a “patchwork approach” with robust programmes in some places and none in others.
“This can undermine environmental rule of law by not providing consistency in implementation and enforcement by sending confusing messages to the regulated community and public,” he added.
The report also devotes significant attention to a growing resistance to the law, which has been most evident in harassment, arbitrary arrests, threats, and the killing of environmental defenders.
It reveals that 908 people were killed in 35 countries between 2002 and 2013, including forest rangers, government inspectors and local activists, with 197 environmental defenders murdered in 2017 alone.
“This report captures the prevailing lack of accountability, strong environmental governance and respect for human rights for the sustainability of our environment,” said Joan Carling, an indigenous rights activist in the Philippines.
“The criminalisation and increasing attacks on environment defenders are clear violations of environmental rule of law and an affront to the rights, roles and contributions of civil society in protecting our environment.”