3 ways to nurture future environment lawyers

Published on Thursday, 26 January 2017

Published by Rob Fowler on Thursday, 26 January 2017

Erosion in Mongolia.
Erosion in Mongolia.

One of the most fulfilling things about teaching is the potential to inspire and shape the future career choices of students. Over my forty years of teaching, some students have told me that I have inspired them to pursue a career in environmental law, and to champion the environment.

I believe that, in addressing environmental degradation in Asia and the Pacific, nurturing the careers of future environmental law teachers is an urgent priority. They are vital to the region’s future because they are responsible for teaching environmental and climate change law to the thousands of law students who will eventually work in government, the judiciary, politics, NGOs, and the private sector. Some of these students will go on to draft laws, and others to implement and enforce them. They will represent threatened communities, or advise corporations on compliance and accountability.

If the system lacks the capacity to educate lawyers for these positions, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws will inevitably be compromised in Asia and the Pacific, where environmental degradation—exacerbated by poor governance—threatens irreplaceable ecosystems, food and water security, and the safety and livelihoods of millions, particularly the poor.

Environmental law teaching is currently under-resourced and inadequate in almost every country across Asia and the Pacific, even though countries like the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Indonesia, and the Philippines have decreed the subject mandatory. There are simply not enough qualified legal scholars to teach environmental law effectively and to inspire students to pursue a career in this field.  Many of them work in isolation, and have a need to network and share knowledge and resources with their peers.

The PRC demonstrates on a grand scale the challenges faced by most other Asian countries. Demand for environmental law expertise is growing rapidly, as the PRC places a high priority on environmental protection through new laws and policies, and also via a new system of specialist environmental courts. There is an overwhelming need for suitably trained environmental lawyers to work within provincial and municipal governments, private companies, and the courts. 

However, senior scholars estimate that only about one-third of the country’s 600 law schools have adequate courses in environmental law.

Priorities for developing teacher assets

So how do we address the problem? I have been working with ADB and the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law on a technical assistance project to strengthen environmental law capacity by developing teacher assets. Below are our 3 priorities.

  1. Create better teachers. In-country Train-the-Teachers (TTT) programs demonstrate innovative teaching methodologies that range beyond traditional lecturing, and provide participants with new skills and tools for more effective teaching. The 5-day intensive TTT programs are delivered by senior professors from the IUCN Academy of Law working with local trainers, often simultaneously in both English and the local language. So far, 4 in-country programs have been delivered in Malaysia, Viet Nam, Philippines and the PRC in partnerships with National University of Malaysia, Hanoi Law University, University of Cebu College of Law and Peking University Law School.
  2. Build in-country and regional networks of Asian environmental champions. Most of Asia’s environmental law teachers have never come together before as a group, even in their own country. We need them to connect, network, support, and inspire each other. Since 2015, regional TTT programs and a roundtable at ADB headquarters have brought together 169 TTT participants from 14 ADB developing member countries, representing 105 institutions. In-country networks of environmental law teachers and institutions have also been established, and continue to grow, in Malaysia, Viet Nam, Philippines and the PRC.
  3. Develop knowledge resources and a shared platform. Communication beyond the TTT programs must continue, as well sharing of knowledge, best practices, and teaching resources. We are preparing an online platform to host teaching and training materials and a database of environmental law teachers, professionals, and institutions. In addition, many environmental champions from this program now advocate for the inclusion of environmental law courses in their institutions, and for it to become a mandatory course in their own countries.

I am inspired by the commitment, enthusiasm and capacity of the participants in the TTT programs. We're building a bottom-up resource of environmental law teachers, integrating new teachers with more experienced scholars in their own countries. This project will live long beyond the actual training, and hopefully deliver more lawyers who are champions for the environment.