We are conducting a crucial legal review to inform the UN as it considers creating the world’s first universal environmental charter.

As we conducted our review, we were reminded of the significance of international environmental laws and their importance for the health and safety of people and the natural resources upon which we rely.

In 2018, the United Nations adopted a resolution to explore the creation of a universal environmental charter based in international law—a Global Pact for the Environment. We were retained by the Environment Program of The Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice to complete a legislative review integral to the development of this potential future treaty. Our review included regional and country-specific instruments, multilateral environmental agreements, soft law instruments and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The team of ten lawyers from six offices on five continents was led by Melbourne partner Michelle Keen and London counsel Tallat Hussain.

With hundreds of bilateral and multilateral agreements related to environmental law in jurisdictions around the world, development of the Global Pact for the Environment represents a fundamental shift in approach to the

development and implementation of international environmental law. To date, this has been largely characterized by incremental and piecemeal responses to specific environmental issues, and has resulted in a highly fragmented international regulatory framework for environmental protection.

“Our work showcased those principles in the Global Pact that were covered at least to some extent by existing treaties and also identified clear gaps that the Global Pact would fill,” said Tallat. “Without an understanding of possible gaps, an international agreement may be unsupportable or even irrelevant. Where the issue is as complex as international environmental law, significant resources are required to ensure the integrity of the ultimate instrument.”

This first-of-its-kind research will be used by the World Commission on Environmental Law at the International Union for Conservation of Nature National Committee to develop and strengthen a body of international environmental law principles and help persuade countries to sign the Global Pact should the UN proceed to its formal creation. The work also supports the UN General Assembly Secretary General report, Gaps in international environmental law and environment-related instruments: Towards a Global Pact for the Environment.

“As we conducted our review, we were reminded of the significance of international environmental laws and their importance for the health and safety of people and the natural resources upon which we rely,” said Michelle. “Our whole team felt extremely proud to have had the opportunity to make this contribution. We hope it will get the full support of the international community.”

The team’s work was recognized by the Vance Center with its 2018 Award for International Pro Bono Excellence.