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...