NEW YORK, New York, July 30, 2017 (ENS) – The Global Pact for the Environment, a new United Nations treaty to define fundamental environmental rights everywhere in the world, is being drafted and will be presented to the UN General Assembly in September by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Should the UN adopt the treaty, it will be the first time environmental rights will have legal and binding power at national and international levels and can be used in courts.

The Pact gathers fundamental and common principles of environmental law, including the 1972 Stockholm Declaration, the 1982 World Charter for Nature, the 1992 Rio Declaration and the Earth Charter.

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Justice Antonio Herman Benjamin, National High Court of Brazil, chair of the IUCN’s World Commission on Environmental Law (Photo courtesy UNEP)

It sets out principles that compel national governments and other legal entities to protect the environment, promote sustainable development and intergenerational equity, and ensure the right of access to information and environmental justice.

“There are over 500 international treaties dealing with the environment, with varying degrees of enforcement,” explained Justice Antonio Herman Benjamin, a justice of the National High Court of Brazil and chair of the IUCN’s World Commission on Environmental Law, who helped draft the Pact.

“This proposal to the UN will bring greater coherence to international environment laws, and set out clear obligations for States and individuals to protect the environment,” Benjamin said.

The initiative to draft the Global Pact for the Environment is chaired by Laurent Fabius, president of the Constitutional Council of the French Republic and former president of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, at which world governments unanimously adopted the first global agreement to limit climate change.

The proposal for the Pact originated in the November 2015 report of the Environmental Commission of Le Club des Juristes, a French think tank. The report, “Increasing the Effectiveness of International Environmental Law,” proposed the adoption of a Global Pact for the Environment to serve as a binding, universal “umbrella text” synthesizing the principles of all instruments shaping environmental governance.

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The Drafting Committee at the French Constitutional Court, June 2017 (Photo courtesy IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law)

With operational support from the Club des Juristes, a drafting committee was convened in Paris on June 23. Meeting into the night, the 30-member committee drew conclusions, harmonized the principles from a human rights perspective, and finalized the 26 articles of the draft Pact.

Article 1 states, “Everyone has the right to live in an environment that is ecologically sound and conducive to health, well-being, dignity, culture and development.”

Article 2 states, “Any State or international institution, any natural or legal person, whether public or private, has a duty to take care of the environment.”

Article 3 states, “Parties shall integrate environmental protection requirements into the design and implementation of their policies and national and international organizations, in particular with a view to promoting the fight against climate change, protection of the oceans and maintenance of biodiversity. They undertake to seek sustainable development.”

The concept of “polluter pays” is included in the draft Pact, as is the “right to reparation” and a principle of “non-regression,” which would not allow a State signatory of the pact to reverse a law favorable to the environment.

More than 150 experts from 54 countries across five continents were consulted throughout the process.

On June 24 the Global Pact for the Environment was launched at the Sorbonne in Paris, where it was introduced by President Macron to an audience of advocates of global environmental governance that included former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, IUCN President Zhang Xinsheng, Chair of the R20 – Regions of Climate Action Arnold Schwarzenegger; and Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Special Envoy on Climate Change.

President Macron pledged to personally act to lay the foundations for Pact’s adoption as a new global covenant by the UN General Assembly.

To fight climate change, said President Macron, “We must reorganize, transform, change behaviors, invest and do it with determination. To do so, we will decarbonize energy production, strengthen the price of carbon, support the development of green finance, provide favorable conditions for researchers and entrepreneurs around the world who provide climate solutions, and mobilize public and private funding. We must integrate climate issues into international trade as well as into our modes of production.”

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At the launch of the draft Global Pact for the Environment, from left: Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, French President Emmanuel Macron, President of the Constitutional Council of France Laurent Fabius, IUCN President Zhang Xinsheng, Sorbonne, Paris, France, June 24, 2017 (Photo by Michel Richard courtesy IUCN)

“Now it is a matter of taking this fight even further and of acting decisively on the global scale. The United Nations is the right arena for that,” Macron said.

Everyone involved in the initiative acknowledges that the current text of the Pact will be modified as it moves through the process of becoming a UN treaty that governments can sign and ratify.

The next step is a one-day conference on September 20 at Columbia University in New York hosted by the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment and the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

It will be held under the guidance of Fabius and of Columbia economics professor Jeffrey Sachs, special adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Sustainable Development Goals, and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia’s Earth Institute.

Timed to coincide with the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, which opens September 19, the conference will explore the complex legal and political challenges of the Pact in view of the hundreds of existing agreements and soft law principles on the environment, and the current global political scene.

After the conference at Columbia, President Macron will present the draft Global Pact for the Environment to the General Assembly meeting at UN headquarters.

Professor Sachs said in a video statement, that the world will honor the Paris Agreement, but, he said, “…we do see very clearly that the agreement by itself and in conjunction with commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals will not be enough.”

“We need to put the protection of the environment on a rigorous, and sound, clear and universal, legal basis. We need the international law to stand clearly on the rights of people to a safe environment, on the right to climate justice restitution and compensation for wrongs committed by companies that don’t behave or by governments that are rogue and irresponsible regarding the natural environment,” said Sachs.

“This initiative for a Global Pact for the Environment calls on the world’s leading jurists to help craft an agreement that in my view should have two strong bases,” said Sachs. “One is the legal framework rights to environmental safety, climate safety, protection of biodiversity, standards of behavior and clear methods for protecting those rights.”

“The second should be clear global governance based at the United Nations.” Said Sachs, “We have a UN Security Council for War and Peace. We need, in my personal view, a UN Security Council for the Environment.”

“It’s time for us to be bold because we know that we are really at the edge,” Sachs warned. “We’ve really reached the very last limits of safety – we need to act decisively.”

After the conference at Columbia, President Macron will present the draft Global Pact for the Environment to the General Assembly meeting at UN headquarters.

This draft will only proceed if the UN General Assembly adopts a resolution creating a preparatory committee.

Justice Benjamin expressed the resolute spirit of the legal experts involved, saying, “We will continue to develop the environmental rule of law ensuring that healthy ecosystems and biodiversity are regarded as a human right.”

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