MANILA, PHILIPPINES — High court judges from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) reaffirmed their commitment to environmental law and climate change at a roundtable meeting last weekend in Cambodia.

The Fifth ASEAN Chief Justices’ Roundtable on Environment was organized by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and hosted by the Supreme Court of Cambodia in Siem Reap on 4-5 December, 2015.  High court judges from all 10 ASEAN countries and ADB’s General Counsel, Christopher Stephens, discussed the challenges faced by ASEAN countries when applying laws on the environment and climate change, and determining complex issues of environmental impact, damage assessment, and valuation and adjudication. 

The Chief Justices’ Roundtable, which ADB has been sponsoring since 2011, is unique to the Asia Pacific region. Together with the Chief Justices’ Roundtable for the South Asia Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which ADB also started in 2012, Asia is the only region in the world that convenes Chief Justices’ roundtables dedicated to environmental issues, and ADB is the only regional multilateral development bank supporting such meetings. 
    
Among the key issues discussed at the ASEAN roundtable were balancing the realities of economic development in the region and the need for environmental protection. Participants recognized the need for capacity building in areas such as environmental damage assessment; statutory penalties; the technical and financial issues of cleanup; restoration and remediation; and public interest environmental litigation. 
  
The roundtable also highlighted the significant progress made in creating national or regional working groups on environment, “greening benches”, and building capacity for environmental adjudication, including judicial training and certification programs on the environment.

“Each of the ASEAN countries has signed relevant treaties on environmental protection and have most of the necessary national laws and regulations required to protect the environment but gaps still remain in the application and enforcement of those laws, and much of that gap arises from lack of capacity and resources among judiciaries,” said Mr. Stephens.  “The ASEAN judiciaries hold a powerful leadership role in steering domestic and regional action towards environmentally sustainable development.” 

ASEAN member countries are Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

Similar roundtables have also been held in South Asia in the past few years. A few days before the ASEAN Chief Justices’ Roundtable, ADB and the Supreme Court of Nepal co-organized the Fourth South Asia Judicial Roundtable on Environmental Justice in Kathmandu on 28-29 November. The event brought together Chief Justices and senior judges, legal professionals, and multi-disciplinary experts from South Asian countries, Brazil, the UK, and the US. At the end of the roundtable, the participants reaffirmed their continuing commitment to promote environmental protection and climate change mitigation and adaptation through more effective jurisprudence in South Asia.

ADB, based in Manila, is dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific through inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration. Established in 1966, it is owned by 67 members—48 from the region. In 2014, ADB assistance totaled $22.9 billion, including cofinancing of $9.2 billion.

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