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The United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), known as UNCED and more familiarly as Rio, has been a legal landmark. It produced the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which in turn has been complemented by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and followed by the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGR).

Rio also produced several soft law instruments, especially Agenda 21, which contains extensive prescriptions for the “further development of international law on sustainable development” and for the establishment of effective national legal frameworks. Both of these have been acted upon. The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Hazardous Chemicals, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and the UN Fish Stocks Agreement are only examples of a busy period in international law. These and other hard and soft law instruments are in turn influencing national legislation.

Not everything that has happened since Rio is due to Rio. As this book demonstrates, there has hardly been an area untouched by law reform in the last ten years. While Rio catalysed or influenced much of this activity, much of it is also due to the World Trade Organization agreements of 1994, as well as to the collapse of communism, which led to wholesale law reform in the affected countries. Thus the same decade has seen a burst of activity in the drafting of seed, plant variety and food safety legislation as well as laws concerning land reform and every sort of privatization.

The Legal Office of FAO has one of the largest programmes of legal technical assistance of any international organization. This has given its officers a unique vantage point from which to observe the legislative changes in food, agriculture and natural resource management, subjects at the core of sustainable development law. In many cases we have participated directly as advisers to governments developing new legislation. The Legal Office has also been directly involved in the preparation of important international agreements, including the Convention to Combat Desertification, the CBD, the ITPGR, the Rotterdam Convention, the revised International Plant Protection Convention, the Fisheries Compliance Agreement and several regional fisheries agreements. A number of non-binding international legal instruments were also developed. The officers and non-staff collaborators of the Legal Office have written this book in order to commemorate the ten years since Rio, and also to share our collective experience in development law over an even longer period.

The book consists of 12 chapters, for the most part divided into categories such as water or fisheries that correspond with administrative departments in many governments. These chapters reflect very considerably our experience in advising governments, usually through such departments, on legislation dealing with these subjects. To some extent, the organization of this book is a matter of convenience. As will be evident, none of these subjects stands alone, and they are linked together in often intricate ways. Good lawmaking is almost inevitably a multisectoral affair. Any law on forestry, for example, will reverberate through the land, wildlife, plant protection and water sectors, and will in turn be shaped by the legal frameworks governing each of these. We hope that a collection of this sort, bringing together legal analyses on such a wide range of specific topics, will help build a better appreciation of the interrelationships that hold them together.

Two chapters, on mountains and on gender, are specifically organized around cross-sectoral themes. Both of these have emerged as significant issues for sustainable development law. The year 2002 is the International Year of Mountains, and the theme is likely to be given a lot of attention at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg (Rio plus 10). Gender issues cut across virtually all aspects of agriculture and natural resource management, and ways of enhancing the rights of women have received renewed attention in recent years.

Many people have contributed to the book in different ways through their regular advisory work, their discussions with national counterparts in member countries and with each other and through their collaboration in conceptualizing, writing and reviewing the chapters that make up the book.

I wish to take this occasion to mention particularly those who contributed directly to the writing of the different chapters: Alexander Behrens (animals), Stefano Burchi (water), Claudia Cantarella (agrobiodiversity), Astrid Castelein (mountains), Maria Teresa Cirelli (wildlife), Lorenzo Cotula (gender, wildlife), William Edeson (fisheries), Laurence Helfer (plants), Blaise Kuemlangan (fisheries), Jonathan Lindsay (introduction, land), Ali Mekouar (agrobiodiversity, forestry, mountains), Steve Neves (food), Marta Pardo Leal (animals, food, plants), Laura Pasetto (reports and publications), Melvin Sprey (fisheries, food), Patrice Talla (introduction, mountains), Annick Van Houtte (fisheries), Jessica Vapnek (afterword, animals, food, plants), Margret Vidar (food) and Annie Villeneuve (mountains). I would also like to thank Barbara Moauro, who was responsible for the layout and printing of the book, and Jonathan Lindsay, who assisted greatly with everything from conceptualizing the book to checking formatting and references in the final stages.

Finally, I wish to extend special thanks to Jessica Vapnek and Ali Mekouar for their outstanding contributions. They edited every chapter of the book, dedicating evenings and weekends to its style and accuracy. In addition, Ali conceived the idea of the book, prepared the first plan for producing it, established the deadlines that few of us met and prodded us to keep going in order to meet the final deadline that would allow the book to appear at Rio plus 10. Without him we would not have done it.

Lawrence Christy
Development Law Service
Legal Office

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