Exploring the Role of Law and Governance in Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development: Insights from the 2018 IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
story highlights

Science, technology and innovation are identified as major pillars of the means of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, cutting across implementation of all SDGs.

The 2018 installment of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Annual Colloquium, organized from 4-6 July 2018 at Strathclyde University, Glasgow, UK, explored the role of law and governance in better leveraging the opportunities arising from technology and innovation, distributing their benefits and managing the associated challenges and risks, in order to build resilience.

Keynote speakers and a wealth of presentations addressed the focus areas in the context of a series of streams that touched upon several SDGs, including: oceans; energy; climate change; freshwater; land, food and agriculture; and biodiversity.

Science, technology and innovation are often heralded as a source of solutions to global environmental problems. They are identified as major pillars of the means of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, cutting across implementation of all SDGs, and they are integral in SDG 17 on strengthening the means of implementation and revitalizing the global partnership for sustainable development. At the same time, technology and innovation carry risks and pose challenges, which need to be addressed within the legal and policy frameworks. What is the role of law and governance in better leveraging the opportunities arising from technology and innovation, distributing their benefits and managing the associated challenges and risks?

Science, Technology and Innovation, and the SDGs

“Over the next 15 years, progress in science, technology and innovation will be key to delivering on all the SDGs – from poverty eradication to agriculture and food security, to energy, to water and sanitation, and climate change,” former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told delegates, business leaders and innovators at the first meeting of the Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI Forum) for the SDGs organized in June 2016 at UN Headquarters in New York, US. The STI Forum is one of the components of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, outlined in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and in the 2030 Agenda, and officially launched in September 2015 by UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution 70/1.

The processes developed under the Technology Facilitation Mechanism provide opportunities to address some of the policy gaps hindering the facilitation and dissemination of affordable technological solutions for sustainable development. The challenges are many, however, and multiple actions from all stakeholders involved are required to address them. Innovation is more than new technologies, innovation is “a mindset and an attitude,” as Ban Ki-moon noted at the first meeting of the STI Forum. “It means questioning assumptions, rethinking established systems and procedures, and introducing new strategies. New technologies are important, but as a means to an end,” he explained, urging leaders to share the benefits of innovation with those who stand to gain the most. Law and governance may have an important role to play in this regard, which is still to be fully explored.

The 16th Annual Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law: The Transformation of Environmental Law and Governance: Innovation, Risk and Resilience

In this context, the University of Strathclyde Law School, through its Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance (SCELG), hosted the 2018 installment of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Academy of Environmental Law Annual Colloquium from 4-6 July 2018 at Strathclyde University, Glasgow, UK. Over three days, the University Technology and Innovation Centre, the venue of the Colloquium, became a global hub of excellence in which academics and practitioners explored the role of law and governance in addressing the opportunities, challenges and risks posed by technology and innovation in order to build resilience. A series of fundamental questions were explored: Are environmental law and governance transforming themselves? If so, to what extent are issues of risk, innovation and resilience at the heart of such transformation? Are risk, innovation and resilience mutually supportive?

Presentations and discussions addressed a series of questions, including:

  • How may national, regional, international and transnational legal frameworks develop, evolve and be harnessed to maximize the potential benefits and limit the challenges associated with technology and innovation?
  • Can law contribute to achieving fairness, equity and justice with regard to the global distribution of the benefits of scientific and technological progress, taking into account the global distribution of risks?
  • What is the interaction between societal perceptions of risk and technological innovation and the development and evolution of law?
  • How can global notions of resilience and risk that have emerged in recent years be used to address local perceptions and experiences of these concepts in different cultural contexts?

The relationship between technology, innovation and resilience was addressed in the context of a series of streams that touched upon several SDGs, including: oceans; energy; climate change; freshwater; land, food and agriculture; and biodiversity. Litigation and human rights-related issues were addressed as cross-cutting themes in many of the discussions. Additional streams featured presentations capturing the core focus areas of the Colloquium: risk, innovation and resilience. Finally, the Colloquium included a session showcasing entrepreneurial innovation and sustainability, with participants from the energy, food and beverage, and water sectors, including Scottish Power, SASOL and Brewgooder.

The Colloquium hosted six keynote speakers, who provided a wealth of insights and critical views on topics touching upon the Colloquium’s focus areas: Tianbao Qin, Luojia Professor of Law, Wuhan University, China; Maria Lee, Professor of Law, University College London, UK; Joanne Scott, Professor of European Law, European University Institute, Florence, Italy; Geert van Calster, Professor of Law, University of Leuven, Belgium; John Knox, at the time UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; and Paul Hunt, former UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

Among the many ideas and views shared at the Colloquium, it was highlighted that risk, innovation and resilience are indivisible, or at the very least, mutually supportive. A socio-ecological risk requires innovation, whether that innovation is scientific, technological, social or legal, for the society that depends on the environment, or for the environment itself, to become more resilient. The challenge for policy makers is to identify, develop and implement regulatory frameworks that encourage the mutual supportiveness of risk, innovation and resilience. With that in mind, it is increasingly evident that lawyers, including environmental lawyers, need to engage in the complexity of multidisciplinary approaches. In addition, there is a growing appreciation that UN Special Rapporteurs are an innovation in international law, and operate as “auditors.” Based on their experience on the ground, they are in a unique position to push the boundaries of international law towards more resilient outcomes.

Key characteristics of resilience were fleshed out during discussions, such as the ability to cope, adapt, move on from failure and anticipate change. Numerous participants also highlighted the need for resilience thinking in environmental law and governance. Environmental law and governance are inevitably in constant evolution and transformation. Legal systems need to be resilient, and adaptive governance needs to be at the heart of environmental law. It is the role of environmental lawyers and all those involved in environmental governance to be bold, understand the challenges and embrace the opportunities involved in this transformation, in order to push the boundaries of law and practice towards a less risky, more innovative and more resilient future.

The Colloquium will lead to a book published in Edward Elgar IUCN Academy of Environmental Law series, edited by Stephanie Switzer and Francesco Sindico, SCELG, together with Denise Antolini, William Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii, US, and Tianbao Qin, Wuhan University.

* * *

The article was written by Elsa Tsioumani, Francesco Sindico and Stephanie Switzer, Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance.

Additional information:


related events


related posts

Second Committee Considers Role of AI in Advancing SDGs

Second Committee Considers Role of AI in Advancing...

WEF Launches Partnerships on Circular Economy, Oceans, Skills Development

WEF Launches Partnerships on Circular Economy, Oce...