Agreed to by King John of England at Runnymede on June 15, 1215, the Magna Carta promised, for the first time, the protection of church rights, protection from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown. It had a profound influence on early American colonists and the formation of the American Constitution. The Magna Carta remains an important symbol of liberty 800 years later. As such, the ABA, along with the U.S. Library of Congress, is holding a number of anniversary celebrations, both in the United States and in the United Kingdom. This collaboration between the ABA and the Library of Congress also resulted in a travelling exhibit on the Magna Carta. Through the intersession of our Section, the exhibit includes important references to the Charter of the Forest.
Charter of the Forest
The Charter of the Forest was a complementary charter to the Magna Carta. It provided, for the first time, significant rights, privileges, and protections for citizens against the abuses of the Crown with respect to natural resources. At the time, the forests belonged to the king. Forests were the most significant source of fuel and food. Before the Charter, it was illegal for citizens to collect firewood, hunt, pasture animals, and perform other important acts to sustain their lives. There were grave consequences for violation. For example, hunting deer was punishable by death. The Charter represented a fundamental shift in rights, away from the monarchy and to the common man. For the first time, forests (including open land areas) became available for use by citizens.
Global empowerment through rule of law
Given the significance of the Charter of the Forest and its fundamental ties to the environment and the rule of law, the Section has been participating in the Magna Carta anniversary celebrations. In March, we took part in the event “Magna Carta 2015: Global Empowerment Through Rule of Law Forum” held at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The forum was presented by the Presidential Precinct, composed of a group of universities and other institutions including the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary.
Discussion with Prince Charles
One of the forum’s three sessions focused on sustainability and climate change. Twenty-five young leaders from emerging nations and 25 other invited guests attended, including His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales. I moderated a discussion on sustainability and climate change among a number of young leaders from around the world. Following that discussion, Prince Charles joined us and we had the opportunity to brief him on the discussion. The Section will continue to participate in the dialogue through the forum website and social media posts.
Integration and outreach
As many of you know, one of my goals this year is “integration and outreach.” Our renewed focus on international environmental, energy, and resources legal issues fits squarely within this goal. The Section’s involvement with the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta is only one example.
Why address global issues?
So why are we devoting our attention and resources to international concerns? A simple reason is that it provides tremendous opportunities to our Section members. Perhaps a more compelling reason is that it is the right thing to do.
No one seriously refutes that the world is becoming a smaller place. From an environmental perspective, what happens in the United States affects the rest of the world and what happens in the rest of the world surely affects the United States. In order for any of us practicing in the areas of environment, energy, and resources law to provide sound advice to our clients, we need the knowledge of what’s happening across the globe. Our Section leadership believes that our international work will pay dividends to Section members for many years to come. Clearly the Section’s global efforts have been recognized, from both within and outside ABA. It is exciting for the Section to be at the forefront of these important discussions.
Engaging in the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta and focusing on the Charter of the Forests, one of the world’s first environmental laws, is only one recent example of the Section’s international focus. In addition, the Section has been:
- Prominently involved in the World Justice Project’s environmental rule of law initiative. This work, led this year by Alex Dunn with the assistance of other Section leaders, was described in a recent Trends article.
- In addition, we are, through the efforts of Lee DeHihns, leaders in the ABA Sustainable Development Task Force, which began as a project of ABA President James Silkenat.
- A number of the Section’s substantive committees focus on international issues, including the International Environmental and Resources Law Committee and the Climate Change, Sustainable Development, and Ecosystems Committee.
- We have recently published an excellent resource on international issues, International Environmental Law: The Practitioner’s Guide to the Laws of the Planet, edited by Roger Martella and Brett Grosko.
Through these efforts, we have amassed a significant body of both knowledge and information on global environmental, energy, resources, and sustainability issues. More importantly, the Section is increasingly seen as a leader, both within and beyond the ABA, on these issues.
I invite your ideas, comments, and thoughts on this important work.