icone journal Journal

L'actualité du cabinet ecocy et de ses partenaires.

Towards a socio-ecological approach of law (part I)

Publié le : 18/08/2009

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  “When you talk about the environment you start destroying it”*

What does talking about environmental law means today then? From a poetic vision of nature, to the first generations of sectorial polices and laws (with the brown and green branches of environmental laws, urban planning rules, agriculture standards, etc. and human rights on another hand) and their quasi-hermetic institutions, we are now pressed by global issues, such as climate change, cultural and biological diversity erosion or oceans acidification, to go integrated in our approaches. Scientist said we entered the Anthropocene, a period when the human activities began to have a significant global impact on the earth's climate and ecosystems. Are our legal systems adapted to that? Though the paradigm shifts are considerable: From a wild nature we made a domesticated nature, from a vision of biomes (say, tropical forests or human agriculture) we now foresee anthropogenic biomes (or anthromes, that combine human settlements and land-use with natural vegetation). From compartmented disciplines we try to go multidisciplinary, at the image of life's complexity.  Obviously, managing nature apart from people is no longer a viable strategy when humanity's ecological footprint exceeds what the world can sustain. Simply put, science and management needs to bring people into the picture to preserve any hope of sustainability. In a word, the future is integrative. What about our laws and policies? How should they evolve practically? Towards new forms of socio-ecological approaches? These are the question raised in this essay (Part I and Part II)

Thinking outside of the boxe(s)

Law making in anthropogenic by nature, because made by humans for humans, and vis à vis the environment (litterarly "what surrounds humans"). That makes it extremely difficult for lawyers to think "outside of the box". It is even more difficult when you specialized and practiced for years into a particular branch of environmental law (say water law), to get a glimpse of what others lawyers are doing but is so much related to your work, such as human rights, urban planning or protected areas legislation. That is even absolutely necessary to have an idea of what other disciplines, such as anthropology, geography or economy, have to say about your problem. However, I think any lawyer practicing (and witnessing) the difficulties in implementing our current environmental laws and conventions worldwide has that primary feeling that solutions are not merely scientific, but plain social. Environmental law is a social discipline. It is our various visions of nature, that are embodied in our mental schemes - themselves inherited from our cultures - that makes it extremely difficult to understand and shape common practical approaches in our (environ-mental) systems. We believe there is a momentum for urgent thinking in our (environmental) law making processes. I actually believe global issues such as climate change will not be tacked only through climatic measures, but first of all through the sound management of our lands and natural resources. Lawyers have a huge responsibility in shaping new solutions. It is time to shift from environmental law to socio-ecological law. 

Towards socio-ecological law? 

To put it simply, socio-ecological law would be a new form of law that would mix environmental law, urban planning, housing and building rules, agriculture standards and human rights, into single integrated and global instruments. Socio-ecological law would be a universal concept, any society being a mix of ecological and sociological (cultural) systems. The common paradigm would be that our legal solutions needs to reflect (and project for the future) our true and necessary relationships to our supporting ecosystems. It is not only the peoples in developing countries that have a particular relationship to their environment, it is also the New-Yorker vis à vis neighboring New-jersey or his suburb, the farmer in Brazil, their children in an evolving way, etc.  I believe new tools, but also proven legal solutions, permits that shift practically. Environmental economics offers new solutions, tools such as ecosystems valuation (quantification of the diverse services - economical, social, recreational, spiritual, etc. brought by ecosystems) or indicators such as the ecological footprint, gives us great information about our consumption of natural goods and the capacity of our ecosystems to sustain them. GIS and mapping also offers great new ways to see our anthromes, but also to manage practically our territories. We believe they are our modern land planning tools, with our rules leaving legal books to go horizontal in our maps! Public consultation and participation techniques also made huge progress, allowing better democratic involvement of stakeholders in ecosystems management. Not to mention all the great tools and principles developed by the first generation of environmental law that would find their place into a renewed system: environmental and social impact assessments (integration of socio and environmental seem inevitable), the precautionary principle, the ecosystem approach, described as "a matter of societal choice", access to justice, etc. Like the concept of socio-ecological law itself, all of these tools are of universal use and can be implemented both in the rich and the developing world. It is up to us to play the music now, with a particular twist.

Mapping our anthromes, planning our rules, implementing democratically (to be continued in Part II)

By Laurent Granier, ecocy director 

*"Parler d'environnement c'est commencer à la détruire" (Armand Farrachi, « Petit lexique d'optimisme officiel, Fayard - 2007) Because it puts people out of the ecosytems map, an anthropocentric bias.


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