The decade since Rio has been a momentous one, reflecting dramatic political, economic, philosophical and legislative change. A greater sophistication on the part of citizens regarding the environment, an increasing recognition of the importance of stakeholder participation and community involvement and a growing appreciation of the need to respond to the effects of globalization - these are only a few of the converging worldwide trends that have had an impact on the goals and processes of legislative change. In this context, sharing international experiences is increasingly important.
The Legal Office of FAO has developed some tools over the years that can be helpful to governments seeking to review and revise their legislation in light of international developments and new national concerns, as well as to those seeking to advocate or influence such processes. Perhaps the most important is FAOLEX, an online database of food and agricultural law from around the world. It contains over 20 000 full texts of treaties, laws and regulations dealing with most of the issues of agriculture, natural resources management and sustainable development. It can be accessed in English, French and Spanish at www.fao.org/Legal. Another tool is the series of printed publications on current legal issues available from the FAO Legal Office, which has now been augmented by the Legal Papers Online series, also accessible at www.fao.org/Legal. Recent papers deal in detail with legal aspects of forestry, fisheries, wildlife, animal health, land, plant genetic resources and other subjects that are covered in the present study.
It is hoped that this book will also be a useful resource for lawyers, government officials, researchers and others interested in trends in the law on sustainable development - trends that have crystallized in the decade since the Rio Conference, and trends that can be expected to further evolve in the coming years. The fact that the book has been divided into individual chapters organized around the subject areas addressed by the Legal Office in the course of its technical assistance work should not obscure the many links and cross-connections among them.
One of these is the movement toward the harmonization of international standards and national legislation in accordance with international models. The amalgamation of food safety, animal health and plant health concerns in the WTO's Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures most clearly reflects this trend. It is now axiomatic that national sovereignty does not justify the creation of local standards that impinge on internationally agreed environmental, trade or other concerns. International sources are to be consulted, and where necessary international advice obtained, to develop national standards and laws that are in harmony not only with international obligations but that are also regionally consistent and tailored to national concerns.
The formalization of international standards as binding on WTO members under the SPS Agreement mirrors another development over the course of the last decade: a significant number of informal arrangements have become binding agreements or have led to the development of formal treaties, after sustained international negotiations. The International Undertaking on Plant Genetics Resources has become an international treaty; UNCED's call for effective implementation of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea led to adoption of the FAO Compliance Agreement and UN Fish Stocks Agreement; the PIC Convention arose from the earlier non-binding FAO Code of Conduct and the UNEP London Guidelines. Other examples abound.
In many of the fields addressed in this book, there has also been a conceptual shift toward cross-sectoral cooperation and organization and away from compartmentalized approaches. Whether in considering ecosystems in water resources management; whether in recognizing the intersection between sanitary and phytosanitary standards and food safety; or in acknowledging the special problems of mountain areas - problems that cross-cut land, water, forestry and environmental issues - policy-makers, legislators and government officials can no longer afford to focus solely on their own concerns. For example, ministries of health monitoring water quality for human consumption, ministries of agriculture regulating water quality for irrigation and ministries of energy and environment assessing water quantity must devise cross-sectoral strategies and solutions. Similarly, standard-setting bodies charged with promoting food safety cannot ignore plant protection effects on agricultural produce or the human health risks arising from certain animal diseases.
The goal of recognizing all implicated actors is mirrored by a desire to take into account the interests of those who may not have received equal attention before. For example, evolving attitudes on gender have triggered policy and legal efforts to remove constraints to women's full participation and to rectify the effects of past discrimination in land, property and a variety of other areas. Equally, the protection of indigenous communities with regard to plant breeding, land rights and forestry, among others, has gained increasing attention, as have the benefits of community management in such contexts as forestry, irrigation schemes and fishing. This concept can be expressed as the desire not to forget any organization or stakeholder in the revision of legislation: all must be at the negotiating table, whether at international conferences or at rural meetings of citizens and groups affected by proposed legislative amendments.
Finally, the most important trend must be toward incorporation of the concept of sustainable development itself into legislation. Forest laws, fisheries laws, wildlife laws, laws on genetics resources - in all of these the concept of sustainable management has gained primacy in recent years. In land law, strengthening security of tenure for individuals and groups is an important step towards the sustainable use of land, whereas in water resources management, the shift toward greater government control reflects concerns about unregulated access to limited resources which are subject to competing uses; in fisheries law, the focus has shifted from exploitation to conservation and sustainable utilization. In these and the other contexts addressed in this book, the use of law to achieve sustainable development has assumed primary importance since Rio.