July 16, 2021

A Truly Global Community of Environmental Law Scholars

Posted on July 16, 2021 by Robert Percival

Earlier this month more than 300 professors and graduate students throughout the world participated in the first virtual colloquium of the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Academy of Environmental Law.  The Academy is a consortium of educators from 214 academic institutions in 60 countries dedicated to improving the teaching, development and implementation of environmental law (see https://acoel.org/meet-the-IUCN-Academy-of-Environmental-Law/ ).

Until 2020, the Academy had held an in-person Colloquium annually at a location on a different continent than in the previous year.  The 17th Colloquium was held in August 2019 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, hosted by the University Teknologi Mara. Other colloquia have been held in Scotland, the Philippines, Norway, Indonesia, Spain, New Zealand, the U.S., South Africa, Belgium, China, Mexico, Brazil, Australia and Kenya.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Academy in 2020, for the first time in its history, postponed its colloquium. It shifted to an entirely virtual format for its 18th Colloquium, which was held from June 28-July 2, 2021. The theme of the conference, hosted by the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, was “The Future of Environmental Law: Ambition and Reality.” 

A total of 330 law professors and graduate students registered for the colloquium.  Over the course of five days scholars from 40 countries made more than 220 presentations on 65 panels conducted over Zoom, https://www.rug.nl/rechten/congressen/archief/2021/iucnael-2021/iucn-ael-parallel-sessions.pdf.There also were three plenary sessions, including a keynote address by Professor Michael Faure, a top environmental law scholar from Belgium.

Not surprisingly, the global climate crisis was the most popular topic. A total of ten panels addressed various aspects of climate change with three of these panels focused on climate litigation.  Human rights, rights of nature and environmental justice also were popular topics, as were environmental enforcement, water issues, and the transition to renewable energy.  Panels offered perspectives from many different areas of the world. For example, a panel on wildlife law featured presentations on efforts to protect the endangered Bali starling in Indonesia, the influence of CITES on pangolin trafficking in Nigeria, and changes in China’s wildlife law spurred by zoonosis concerns.  Presentations on other panels included efforts to bring environmental class actions in Russia, green financing in India, and the challenge of increasing soil salinization caused by brackish irrigation water in Belgium.

Each continent on the planet (other than Antarctica) was represented by more than a dozen presenters. Brazil and the Netherlands tied for the most presentations with 26 each, followed by the UK with 21, Australia and the U.S. with 20 each, and Indonesia with 19.  There were 10 or more presenters from South Africa, Finland, China, India, New Zealand, Belgium, Italy, and Canada. Among other countries represented were Cyprus, Nigeria, the Seychelles, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates.

A selection of papers presented at each colloquium are published by Edward Elgar Publishing in an edited anthology. The most recent of these publications is The Impact of Environmental Law: Stories of the World We Want (https://www.e-elgar.com/shop/usd/the-impact-of-environmental-law-9781839106927.html).  This year a multinational group of academy scholars collaborated to write Teaching and Learning in Environmental Law, another Elgar publication providing advice to teachers of environmental law.  A book launch event for it was held at the colloquium (https://www.e-elgar.com/shop/usd/teaching-and-learning-in-environmental-law-9781789908527.html). The Academy also publishes an eJournal annually that includes articles, book review, and reports by local experts on developments in environmental law in different countries (see https://www.iucnael.org/en/academy-journal/current-issue#). 

Environmental law professors throughout the world have been debating the pros and cons of hosting conferences virtually as opposed to in-person.  There is a strong consensus that the environmental consequences of international air travel should not be ignored.  But there also is appreciation for the benefits of meeting in-person (including having participants in the same time zone rather than having some presenting online at 2AM and 5AM local time).  The next Academy colloquium will employ a hybrid format to allow both in-person and online participation.  It will be held from July 11-15, 2022 at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. The 20th Colloquium is scheduled for 2023 at the University of Eastern Finland in Joensuu. Membership in the IUCN Academy is open only to academic institutions, though colloquium programs generally are open to the public.