Lawyers as Champions for the Environment

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Adjunct Professor Rob Fowler, Law School, the University of South Australia, and Project Coordinator, ADB-IUCNAEL Training the Trainers in Environmental Law Project.

One of the most fulfilling things about teaching is the potential to inspire and shape the future career choices and paths of students. Over my forty years of teaching, I realize that some of the best words I’ve heard are: You’ve inspired me to pursue a career in environmental law and to champion the environment.

Thus, it has been a privilege to work with ADB and the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law on a technical assistance project focused on developing environmental law teachers in Asia and the Pacific. In this region, environmental degradation, exacerbated by illegal activities and poor environmental governance, threatens irreplaceable ecosystems, food and water security, and the safety and livelihoods of millions, particularly the poor.

These teachers are vital to the region’s future because they are responsible for teaching environmental and climate change law to the thousands of law students who eventually work in government, the judiciary, politics, NGO’s, and the private sector. Some of these students will go on to draft laws, others to implement and enforce them.  They will represent threatened communities or advise corporations around compliance and accountability. If the legal education system lacks the capacity to educate lawyers for these positions, then the implementation and enforcement of environmental laws will inevitably be compromised

Currently, environmental law teaching is substantially under-resourced and inadequate in almost every country across the region, even though some countries (e.g. the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Indonesia, and the Philippines) have decreed the subject mandatory. There are simply not enough legal scholars qualified to teach environmental law effectively and inspire students to pursue a career in this field.  As well, many of them work in isolation and need to network and share knowledge and resources with their peers.

The PRC demonstrates on a grand scale the challenges facing most other Asian countries. Demand for environmental law expertise is growing rapidly as China places a high priority on environmental protection through new laws and policies, and also via a new system of specialist environmental courts. There is an overwhelming need for suitably trained environmental lawyers to work within provincial and municipal governments, private companies, and the courts.  However, senior scholars estimate that only about one-third of PRC’s 600 law schools are able to present an adequate course in environmental law.

So how do we address the problem? Under ADB’s Developing Environmental Law Champions technical assistance we aim to strengthen environmental law capacity by helping to:

  1. Create Better Teachers.
    In-country Train-the-Teachers (TTT) programs that demonstrate innovative teaching methodologies that range beyond traditional lecturing and provide participants with new skills and tools for more effective teaching.  The 5-day intensive TTT programs are delivered by senior professors from the IUCN Academy of Law working with local trainers, often simultaneously in both English and the local language. So far, 4 in-country programs have been delivered in Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines and the People’s Republic of China (PRC)  in partnerships with National University of Malaysia, Hanoi Law University, University of Cebu College of Law and Peking University Law School, as host institutions.
  2. Build in-country and regional networks of Asian environmental champions
    What has emerged from this technical assistance is that most of Asia’s environmental law teachers have never come together before as a group, even in their own country.  

    There is a great need for Asia’s environmental law teachers to connect, network, supportand inspire each other.  Since 2015, regional TTT programs and a roundtable at ADB headquarters have brought together 169 TTT participants from 14 ADB developing member countries, representing 105 institutions. In-country networks of environmental law teachers and institutions have also been established, and continue to grow, in Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines and PRC.  

  3. Develop knowledge resources and a shared platform
    Communication beyond the TTT programs must continue as well as sharing of knowledge, best practices and teaching resources. Under the technical assistance, we’re preparing an online platform to host teaching and training materials and a database of environmental law teachers, professionals, and institutions. In addition, many of the environmental champions from this program now advocate for the inclusion of environmental law courses in their institutions, and for it to become a mandatory course in their own countries.

I find myself truly inspired by the commitment, enthusiasm and capacity of these participants. We're building a bottom-up resource of environmental law teachers, integrating new teachers with more experienced scholars in their own countries. This project has a lifetime, a longevity and a sustainability long beyond the actual training.