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the future of environmental law mapping

Publié le : 22/10/2009

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Geographical Information Systems - GIS and mapping offers great opportunities for the transfer of legal data "from vertical books to horizontal maps". GIS applications have been evolving in many directions, well beyond geography. Environmental economics, but also social, health or administrative data are now aggregated with scientific representations. The methods for environmental and social mapping are now going participatory too. Together, these tools offer new, integrated, visions of our territories (or anthromes) and should question environmental lawyers and policy makers. Maps and plans have been considered as legal tools in urban and planning law since a long time. The French "Plan Local d'Urbanismes" (formerly "POS" ) with its "graphical documents" are both legally binding. Sectoral environmental legislation also offers legally binding spatial representations, such as boundaries in protected areas, water catchments or industrial zones. In international law, the Counsil of Europe developped  guidelines on coastal management that include "legal mapping" as a relevant tool (art. 26). Part of our environmental legislation is made of data, standards and zones that makes sens horizontally. Another strong tendency that should lead us through more legal mapping is the need to aggregate more and more rules and multiple status (of land). This applies both in developing and rich countries. There is for example no real understanding of the future of a protected area (PA) without looking to the diverse rules applying on its surrounding lands, forests, concessions, villages, etc. In European and North American contexts, the multiplication of layers, and the necessary need to coordinate sectoral policies are leading managers to a greater use of mapping, in order to get a "better global picture".  These online examples of legal mapping offer different perspectives on the challenges of representing rules. They usually do it through zoning, colours and associated obligations. Most of them show it is a tendency to use these compilation systems to aggregate geographical, ecological, administrative and legal data.

A great French online public tool allows users to make personalized maps, e.g with combined protected areas status (including biosphere reserves, bird nesting zones, EU birds and special conservation zones, and of course all the "classical" protected areas status), river basins, coast line, all the agriculture data.
addwijzer is a very innovative program. It is a EU eContent project that succeeded in demonstrating how planning laws could be integrated into maps in the Netherlands. According to Dr. David R. Newman, Queen's University Belfast, a Member of the PGIS network, Framfab used the IMRO codes that a Dutch project had created to add laws to maps of the district plans, and added rules that you could use to quickly find areas where a particular kind of development is legal. The tool is still under development.
Here is a compilation of online mapping data about protected areas in South-east Asia, the google earth apps on marine protected areas are also very nice and great tool to use, with lots of potential for environmental education to.

As for the experience of ecocy, in the case of participatory PAs mapping (in the Gabonese legislation for example), legal data in mapping can include:
 - Representations of general laws and regulations, for example health rules on malaria applying to the entire country, the ban on fishing after 3 miles, general building rule, roads, etc.

 - Specific laws and regulations. In the case of protected areas, rules are plenty. They include boundaries (usually through a law or decree creating limits, rules), the internal zoning with different affectations, the buffer zone, the zoning of local communities activities, the customary zones, corridors, etc. More interesting is the zoning of what surrounds PAs, such as clear identification of forest concessions, mining, industries, cities, private land, etc.

- Contractual rules can be represented too, such as local participation tools (local conventions, charters, bylaws) and international transboundary agreements.

Law and policy makers may promote these legal mapping tools to a greater extent in the future. They give a big, clear, picture of the numerous rules now applying to any zone, they can be made democratically, by involving stakeholders (from international to local - participatory mapping), they help administrators taking more sound land management decisions and also better plan for the future (particularly in adaptation to climate change perspectives). Our rules are just going dynamic, at the image of ecosystems. Hopefully maps and plans will also become more and more legally binding.

By Laurent Granier, ecocy director


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