The number of specialized courts that resolve environmental issues has grown from only a handful in the 1970s to more than 350 in 41 countries. And while past research has studied a few courts in one or two countries, The Access Initiative of the World Resources Institute (WRI) today releases the first comprehensive global report on the status of these courts.

“The dramatic growth in the number of these courts is the result of growth in the complexity of environmental laws and in public awareness of environmental problems,” said George Pring, who coauthored the report – Greening Justice: Creating and Improving Environmental Courts and Tribunals, being released here at an event at WRI – with his wife Catherine Pring.

World Map of Countries with Environmental Courts and Tribunals

She added, “Considering there has been so much growth in this area, there has not been a lot of cross-border learning going on. We wanted to examine these courts first-hand. And what we discovered is that there are 12 essential elements that go into making environmental courts successful.”

Those “12 essential elements” depend on the legal framework, political system, and goals for each country establishing these courts – which, in the report, are referred to as “environmental courts and tribunals” (ECTs). They include type of forum, legal jurisdiction, ECT decisional levels, geographic area, case volume, standing, costs, access to scientific and technical expertise, availability of alternative dispute resolution expertise, competence of ECT judges and decision-makers, case management, and enforcement tools and remedies.

The report’s findings are the result of site visits by the Prings to 33 ECTs in 21 countries and interviews with 150 ECT-experienced justices and judges, prosecutors, court staff, government officials, private-sector attorneys, nongovernmental organizations, and academics.

Over the last three decades, ECTs in many countries have responded to environmental challenges. Good examples include Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Sweden, and Canada. Major ECT developments are also happening in India, China, Latin America, Asia, and Africa. The report includes a full list of the known ECTs worldwide.

“Greening Justice examines plenty of innovative models around the world, but the bottom line is that most citizens still lack adequate access to justice. Further, the research that would help us better understand the effectiveness and promise of these institutions is almost non-existent,” said Lalanath de Silva, director of The Access Initiative at WRI.

With new ECTs being proposed, considered, or developed around the globe, most recently in Chile, Bolivia, Thailand, the Philippines, China, Abu Dhabi, India, and Hawaii, it appears that the increase in ECTs and their ongoing reform and improvement will continue.