The Need for a Neutral, Creative Presence
I feel honored to have the chance to follow in the footsteps of my friend and colleague John Cruden in leading what I regard as the world’s premier nonpartisan environmental law think tank and the leading institutional expert on environmental governance and rule of law.
Environmental law has changed since ELI was first created — no question. But the imperative for an organization like ELI has not diminished; rather, in view of the paralysis that grips the lawmaking and policy process, the need for a neutral, creative presence like ELI could not be greater.
And in a world that is reckoning with modern mega-questions like climate change and the sustainability of rapid urbanization and development; in which governmental dysfunction stands as a huge barrier to achieving environmental objectives in much of the world; in which there is an explosion of environmental data and of social media mechanisms for ventilating those data; and in which innovation within the private sector in the form of supply chain management and preferential purchasing is approaching its zenith, the need for an entity that can envision, build, and enable the mechanisms that can contribute to the future of environmental protection could not be more significant. I think ELI can be that entity, in view of the talents of its staff and the extensive expertise and perspective of the broader ELI family.
The ELI brand continues to be strong — quite strong — both here and abroad. And my sense is that ELI’s core functions as a convener, educator, publisher of legal scholarship and policy dialogue, and research engine remain a sound foundation on which to build for the future. This said, the world around us is rapidly changing, and we need to make sure that ELI is adapting and modernizing in alignment. To this end, we’ll be doing some strategic thinking here at ELI, reexamining our niche relative to all the other actors in this sphere, identifying priorities for engagement, and seeking to optimize the alignment of mission, function, and contribution.
Many of our programs and products are in service of our membership, and that will of course continue to factor prominently in ELI’s activities. But I also hope that, like me, you see ELI as a way of projecting yourselves out into the broader world in a way that advances environmental quality, with the collateral benefit of also creating a level and predictable playing field for commerce. Because we arrived at our environmental crisis point early here in the United States, and have done a better job than most at mastering it, we have much to offer a world deeply in need of functional, practical modalities for getting the business of environmental protection done.
There are many good things being done at ELI through your support. For example, we have recently conducted a comprehensive assessment of Nigeria’s artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector, showing the way to improve long-term health and environmental outcomes through reformed mining practices. In the neighboring West African nation of Liberia, we are continuing more than a decade of work building the capacity of the Ministry of Justice and Forest Development Authority to enforce the nation’s forestry and related laws.
We have also grown our global Environmental Peacebuilding Community of Practice to over 2,100 members worldwide. The Community of Practice represents a new ELI-founded network of researchers, practitioners, and decisionmakers who share experiences and lessons from managing natural resources in strife-torn nations and participate in events to transfer knowledge and best practices in the area of environmental peacebuilding.
Our Ocean Program staff is working globally to develop better legal systems to govern long-neglected ocean resources. We recently helped the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda create landmark ocean management regulations for 33 percent of the island nation’s coastal area, and now we are moving to train enforcement officials to make sure the regulations are carried out.
And there is much good work yet to be done. We have a dialogue underway with some leading figures in the world’s judicial community about the importance of judicial literacy on climate change. Drawing on our strengths in judicial training, we hope to play an important role in a judicial climate literacy initiative. We have conversations underway with the Chinese government regarding working together on a collaborative program focused on building effective environmental governance and rule of law. Our engagement with the United Nations Environment Program on their environmental rule of law program is picking up speed. This list goes on, in part because the needs of the broader world and the strengths of ELI are in tight alignment.
I look forward to doing great things together in the years to come.