Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, opened the World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Sustainable Development, at the Tribunal de Justica (the Supreme Court) of the State of Rio de Janeiro. He noted that the 5th Global Environment Report of UNEP showed deteriorating conditions and that recognizing environmental rights was being acknowledged as a way to reverse those trends. He noted that courts as essential in seeing that environmental rights are observed, so the judiciary is a key to reversing trends and establishing sustainability.

He related that on Saturday night he went to the Flamingo and met some 700 civil society representatives assembled there. He said it was uncomfortable for a UN official to have done so. The young, the indigenous, the unions, the reformers are many and came to Rio because they deeply care about their futures. He said that they are upset with the ineffectiveness of governments, and the lack of reforms. He said they lack “faith hope and confidence” in governments and the UN and feel that their rights are being disregarded. Steiner said these people need access to justice and will come to the courts, and the said “the judiciary are the last resort” for such individuals. So courts must exercise their traditional rule to hear these claims to environmental rights and extend their guardianship to cover their claims that the environment needs effective protection.

The UNEP Congress continues for two days at a conference center outside of the city, and will report back on June 20th again at the Rio Supreme Court. Copies of the Pace Environmental Law Review’s symposium edition on “Environmental Courts and Tribunals: Improving Access to Justice and Protection of the Environment Around the World” are being distributed and can be accessed online.