Twenty years after the Rio Earth Summit, the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) offers an important opportunity to consider anew the challenge of sustainable development and to provide guidance and inspiration for the path ahead. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is among the discussants within the U.S. government effort led by the U.S. State Department to advance a positive and constructive intervention at the Rio+20 conference. This includes advancing the discussion to pursue effective environmental governance, particularly at the national level, within the "institutional arrangements" component of the Rio+20 agenda. This will serve to highlight the critical importance of effective governance and will help catalyze an international effort to more fully operationalize ideals, objectives, and commitments through government systems and modalities that are fully functional.
Within this context, the World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability, which will immediately precede the Rio+20 conference, is expected to bring together judges, attorneys general, auditors general, and others integral to effective implementation of environmental law. They will share ideas, best practices, challenges, and successes in a way that, if projected forward, should enhance environmental governance, reflecting its nature as a system of interrelated and mutually reinforcing parts. (1) This discourse is integral to shifting focus from the need for environmental legislation to the quality of implementation of that legislation at the national level. Without effective implementation, there can be no protection from global pollution, and no level playing field for international commerce, including green commerce.
This premise is based on the need for a basic floor of environmental protection that can be experienced around the world. This floor will rest upon the rule of law as its foundation. Successfully implemented, it will be the heart of a governance structure that makes science and environmental data the primary language of environmental protection, guarantees participation in environmental decisions by affected communities, ensures true accountability by government and industry alike, eliminates institutional inefficiency and confusion, and brings swift and meaningful justice to environmental grievances and disputes.
We have learned from experience that without these interrelated and mutually reinforcing parts working in harmony, environmental laws on the books will not produce health and environmental benefits in reality. Taken together, these are the precepts that are integral to effective governance: effective laws, disclosure, participation, accountability, coherent institutional arrangements, dispute resolution, and environmental public integrity. The end state of sustainability is absolutely dependent upon these precepts. These are the ingredients that lift the world of law off the page and propel it into action. (2)
In order for environmental laws to be effective, they should be clear, even-handed, implementable, and enforceable. Laws and regulations should provide a clear roadmap for translating general legal mandates to facility-specific requirements and ensure that the vital interests and views of all stakeholders are considered. Furthermore, laws and regulations must be implemented and enforced in order to achieve desired environmental results.
Environmental information should be collected and made accessible to the public through disclosure. Routinely disclosing available environmental information to the public enables civil society to take an active role in ensuring accountability while fostering community engagement. Public access to environmental compliance data reported by the regulated community or amassed by government through tools like Pollutant Release and Transfer Registries can encourage businesses to pay more attention to polluting activities, expose waste in production processes, and help them make adjustments towards more efficient materials management. …