Academic journal article McGill Journal of Sustainable Development Law

How Can the Rule of Law Advance Sustainable Development in a Troubled and Turbulent World?

Academic journal article McGill Journal of Sustainable Development Law

How Can the Rule of Law Advance Sustainable Development in a Troubled and Turbulent World?

Article excerpt

Ancienne secretaire generale d'Amnistie internationale, Directrice generale, Organisation internationale de droit du developpement --Gonthier Memorial Lecture. Montreal, June 23, 2017/Conference commemorative Gonthier. Montreal, 23 juin 2017 


Justice Charles Doherty Gonthier is remembered around the world for his commitment to sustainability. As a renowned Canadian jurist, he brought to the notion of legal justice a new perspective of global justice through his championing of sustainable development and fraternity, or solidarity. We recall the legacy of Justice Gonthier on the eve of Canada's 150th anniversary and at a time when Canada's longstanding tradition of multilateralism and international solidarity are in ever greater demand.

Justice Gonthier's call for solidarity and sustainability has gained new urgency in our dangerous and endangered world of growing inequalities, sharp ethnic, racial and religious divisions, entrenched conflicts, and violent extremism. Peace negotiations are paralyzed, conflicts are uprooting millions of people, and Western leadership is in turmoil. Populist politicians are exploiting the discontent and anger of those who feel left out and left behind, sowing seeds of intolerance and polarizing society. There is widespread disaffection and disillusionment with established institutions. And all the while, the time bomb of global warming ticks on relentlessly, even as the Paris Agreement is trashed by its key polluter.

The international consensus on sustainable development is a lifeline for humanity's survival in this gloomy context. On September 25, 2015, world leaders adopted what is, arguably, the most ambitious global development program ever: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (the 2030 Agenda). Comprised of 17 universally applicable Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) covering a comprehensive range of economic, social, and environmental priorities for all countries in the world, the 2030 Agenda seeks to align the objectives of eradicating poverty and reducing inequality among present generations with the objective of preserving fragile ecosystems and limited natural resources for future generations. It makes the bold assertion of "leaving no one behind."

The 2030 Agenda's goals apply universally and all countries in the world--Canada as much as Cameroon--are expected to report on progress. It reflects a paradigm shift in international cooperation.

A distinct feature of the 2030 Agenda is the acknowledgement of access to justice and the rule of law as outcomes and enablers of sustainable development. That understanding is made explicit in SDG 16 and embedded implicitly in various other goals and targets across the entire S2030 Agenda through references to equality, inclusion and equity, rights, legal frameworks, and accountable institutions. This could be a game changer for sustainable development.

The provision on access to justice and the rule of law (SDG 16) was hugely controversial and took many months to negotiate. But in the end, world leaders agreed that the balancing of competing inter-generational and intra-generational interests--the eradication of poverty today and the preservation of the planet for the future--requires transparent, inclusively developed, rule-based processes and mechanisms that can ensure equity for all.

The rule of law is relevant to all three dimensions of sustainable development. By ensuring stable, transparent legal regimes, the rule of law promotes economic development. By ensuring equal opportunity and equitable access to basic services, the rule of law promotes social development. By strengthening the legal framework to protect the environment and ensure the fair, sustainable management of natural resources, the rule of law protects the planet.

While the debate at the United Nations (UN) was settled with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, there remain many pertinent questions and challenges for practitioners, policymakers, and academics. …

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