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“Water and the Law: Towards Sustainability” was the theme of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law’s ninth annual conference held in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa from 3-7 July 2011, and hosted by a consortium of Universities including: North-West University; University of Cape Town, University of the Witwatersrand; and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Dr. Peter Ashton, an aquatic ecologist from the Natural Resources and Environment Programme of the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CISR), opened the conference with a keynote address outlining strategic water quality issues facing South Africa.

Prof Patricia Wouters, Director of the UNESCO Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science, at the University of Dundee, delivered the annual Distinguished Lecture on the role of the law in securing water sustainability. She highlighted the challenges of water availability, water access, and conflicts, emphasizing the concept of dynamic cooperation amongst nations as an innovative approach for addressing local and international challenges arising from management of shared fresh water resources.

The colloquium was attended by about 140 environmental law scholars drawn from universities in Africa; Europe; North America; Central and Latin America; Asia; Australia and New Zealand, as well as NGO representatives and independent experts. They discussed and debated a broad range of legal, scientific and policy issues relating to water management and governance. Key themes included the growing challenges of transboundary water resources and climate change impacts. The implications of water pollution from agricultural activity and mining, with particular reference to the African continent, were featured subjects of numerous panels and presentations. Legal considerations, notably the rapidly-evolving status of the right to water, water sovereignty and the importance of and integrated framework of water resources law to facilitate human uses alongside ecological imperatives were also extensively debated.

Justice Dennis Davis, from the Cape High Court, provided detailed insights into South Africa’s front-line experience with the progressive realization of a constitutional right to water with direct reference to vigorously contested litigation such as the prominent Mazibuko proceedings.

The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law represents an international network of over one hundred and fifty faculties teaching and pursuing research in environmental law, which are home to several hundred individual members. The annual conference provides an opportunity for environmental law researchers from around the world to convene for discussion of key challenges on the environmental law agenda and to deliberate on the formulation of the Academy’s programme of research and teaching. The latter, as reported at the annual general meeting by the Chair, Professor Rob Fowler, includes instructional training initiatives in China with forthcoming developments proposed for India, Indonesia and Colombia.

The Academy publicly recognized distinguished contributions to environmental law scholarship with honours going to Professor Svitlana Kravchenko of the University of Oregon, United States, and Professor Louis Kotzé of North-West University in South Africa. In her remarks, Professor Kravchenko, whose extensive career encompasses experience in Ukraine, and in numerous international settings, underscored the importance of academic exchange at the international level: “Each of us may be tempted to view environmental law through a national focus. The Academy takes us out of that comfort zone. It helps us see both the commonalities and the differences among our laws, our scholarship, our societies. It makes us global academic citizens in a way that no environmental law institution ever did.” Michelle Lim, a Doctoral Student from Australia’s University of New England, received an award in the graduate student category.

The IUCN Academy’s 2012 meeting will be hosted by the University of Maryland, July 1-5.

For further information on the Academy, its programmes, and its publications, see www.iucnael.org or contact the Secretariat at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.