Protected areas: the critical role of law

23 May 2008 | News story

The IUCN Environmental Law Centre (ELC) held a well attended side-event on “Protected areas: the critical role of law” during the first week of COP 9. The event aimed at presenting a project initiated by the ELC to develop guidelines for protected areas (PAs) legislation. Participants have shown great interest in the project, welcoming the initiative and drawing attention to a number of key questions which they expected the Guidelines to address.

The aim of the Guidelines is to document the key elements of a modern and effective legal framework, attuned to the present role and corresponding diversification of protected areas, as well as the emergence of new scientific understanding about protected areas management and the emergence of new governance approaches. 

The methodology is to anchor this work in practice, making the Guidelines the result of co-operation between PA legal and management experts. Various case studies will illustrate as many aspects of the Guidelines as possible, covering not only terrestrial, but also marine PAs within national jurisdiction, as well as community-conserved, private and transboundary governance challenges.

At the side event, three speakers shared the task of explaining the rationale and methodology of the work.

First, the connection between legislative frameworks and best management practices was considered by Patti Moore, Head of the Legal Programme for the Asia region. Her presentation focused on the increasing recognition that national legislation plays a critical role in underpinning the infrastructure and management necessary for successful PAs and PA systems. In fact, although there is a vast array of studies and guidelines available regarding the management of PAs, little has been done so far to correlate best practice in PA management with the laws and regulations that govern PAs and establish the legal framework within which they are managed.

Second, Barbara Lausche, CEL member and main contributor to the Guidelines, gave an overview of why and how the subject will be addressed: providing first for an overview of the present international, regional and policy context, second an overview of legal techniques which now can be considered ‘generic’ in nature for all protected areas legislation, and finally highlighting the need to cover cases requiring additional and specific legal measures, such as marine, community-conserved and privately-managed areas, as well as transboundary situations.

Finally, Melinda Janki, co-Chair of the Commission on Environmental Law/World Commission on Protected Areas Task Force, illustrated the need for such guidelines by speaking about her experience in Guyana: the difficulties met by an indigenous community in creating a PA in the absence of a legal framework, and how this unique and successful experience is now influencing the development of new legislation. This concrete example underlined the need to anchor the work in practice, making the Guidelines the result of cooperation between PA legal and management experts.

A lively discussion followed, introduced and led by the Chair of IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, Nik Lopoukhine, and the Head of the IUCN Protected Areas Programme, David Sheppard. Their introduction reinforced the need for dialogue between PAs legal experts and practitioners, leading to a discussion of the necessity for case studies and concrete examples to illustrate the Guidelines.

It was noted with gratitude that the ELC is supported in this project by the Joint Task Force of the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law (CEL) and the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), itself assisted by a project of the University of Ottawa and IUCN Academy of Environmental Law on Comparative Law and Policy on PAs. These efforts, led by Ben Boer, a CEL and WCPA member and now co-Director of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law, will, in addition to products of their own, contribute to providing the ELC projects with a wealth of baseline data, as well as key findings, upon which the Guidelines can be built.