In our globalized world, environmental threats require effective responses that promote peace, justice, development and the fulfilment of environmental and human rights. This is the responsibility of everyone; and we all have the right to be involved. We are all the leadership that the planet needs.
That’s what a group of Kenyan students were told in October 2019 when they participated in a lecture at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on international environmental law.
UNEP promotes a shared sense of environmental governance by building the capacity of those who affect the rules, policies and institutions that shape how humans interact with the environment.
UNEP experts spoke to students on basic governance and enforcement of international environmental law. International environmental law can involve many countries, as it does with the Paris Agreement, or a few countries, such as a regional environmental treaty. Sources of international environmental law can cover varied goals, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, or be specific to a certain issue, such as the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. We need international environmental law because many environmental problems are transboundary, regional or global in scope, and solutions require international cooperation and the adoption of common standards.
The students and UNEP experts deliberated over the weaknesses and strengths of international environmental laws and discussed how students could get more involved in tackling the issues. Students described the lecture as very useful and said that they were challenged to think of new and different aspects of environmental law.
Topics discussed included the divergent responsibilities of various groups regarding environmental governance and biotechnology, the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, and plastic pollution and lessons from the plastic ban in Kenya.
To ensure that this learning continues outside the lecture theatre, the UNEP team shared learning resources with the students.
James Nyaro, a lecturer at the Kenyatta University, said on behalf of the institution: “You let us ask you questions… and responded to them comprehensively… and we cannot thank you enough.”
What should I know about international environmental law?
When states work together to create and implement international environmental law, great things can be achieved. The ozone layer is currently on track to heal completely in our lifetime and this will save two million people each year by 2030 from skin cancer. This success is due to international environmental law through the Montreal Protocol: an environmental treaty.
As everyone has the right to be involved in environmental management, we should all have a basic understanding of the laws that govern us. Countries are individually responsible for deciding and applying international environmental laws, yet the average citizen can be far removed from the processes involved in their development and implementation. As citizens, we should influence the progression and enforcement of international environmental law to ensure that it effectively tackles the issues we face. UNEP encourages everyone to learn what international environmental laws apply to their states through InforMEA. Knowledge is the first step towards creating environmental laws that work for us.
On 23 October 2019, postgraduate students from the School of Security, Diplomacy and Peace Studies at Kenyatta University were introduced to international environmental law by UNEP experts.