Environmental concerns are increasingly becoming transboundary, transnational and need strategic intervention from multisector, multi-geographic and multidisciplinary actors. Conservation of habitat, preventing illegal trade in wildlife and endangered species in particular, transboundary pollution, transboundary river basins concerns, access, benefit sharing and conservation of biodiversity, tenure security of indigenous/tribal communities, corporate environment governance and also the adverse implications of climate change are the few emergent issues that are common and cross cutting and therefore needs maximum attention in the region. The countries in the SAARC region are impacted by these environmental concerns and have over the years generated different, and at times similar, responses and strategies to these concerns. It is thus important to assimilate these varied responses and strategies to develop a regional template of strategies, data, experiences and human resource. A collective regional environmental wisdom and capacity, as it were, for the world to draw upon.
Environmental policies in the South Asian countries need to mature to a regional perspective and outgrow national boundaries. As pointed out in the beginning, environment is a transboundary and transnational concern and requires strategic intervention from multisector, multi-geographic and multidisciplinary actors. The regional wisdom needs to be mainstreamed in our national policies, laws and practices. States for reasons of politics might feel restricted in adopting a robust regional mainstreaming initiative. There is a strong case for tracking the rapidly developing economies and its impact on environment at a professional level with a more objective non-political standpoint. Law stands at the foundation of any policy, therefore it is appropriate for SANEL, a non-governmental initiative to lead this mainstreaming effort across the region.
Further, the importance of legal strategies and their impacts must be shared with different disciplines and sectors. It is only then that environmental law approaches can be mainstreamed in decision making processes.
Recently the NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, India in technical association with the Environment Law and Development Foundation (ELDF) conducted training and capacity building programs for the legal fraternity, government officials, non-government officials including CBOs and academic on environmental law in the SAARC region. In this process, several key activities were carried out. Status papers on legal aspects of strategic environment concerns such as climate change, natural resource management including tenure security and subsistence concerns and role of environmental law in corporate governance were written by eminent and experienced campaigners in the region. This was also followed by synthesizing the learning to develop some trends in the region. Annotated list of the major legal instruments in the region was also collated to understand the specificity as well as the divergence of these instruments and also the robustness of the legal frame in the region. Post this preparation on content, several training/orientation sessions were conducted as a capacity building measure for legal professionals including judges, senior bureaucrats, senior non-government representatives and academic. This was done under an innovative and interactive design and methodology which included needs and expectations analysis, thematic key notes, thematic quiz, role plays, situation analysis, group discussions, case studies and open house plenaries. About 170 participants, from about six countries in the region participated. The feedback received was extremely positive and this unique initiative in the region received overwhelming support. While the larger initiative of carrying out such training/orientation program in the SAARC region is being explored, a very important outcome of this process is setting up of the first South Asian Network on Environmental Law and Policy -the SANEL.
SANEL therefore has two critical roles to play. One to be an intellectual hub of South Asian Environmental thought equipped with data, information and technical expertise from across the region. SANEL will therefore be a scholastic regional environmental think tank that will interact and engage with countries and policy makers to improve regional environmental footprint. Two, to be a vibrant and dynamic multi-sectoral and multi-geographic capacity development Centre in environment, law, policy and development.
SANEL proposes to serve as a platform for exchange of latest ideas, strategies, learnings in the field of environment and development in the South Asian region. As stated earlier, the different regions are at different pace of economic development, however the environment and development concerns throw up common challenges and there is a lot to learn from similar geographical, cultural and social context.
Collation of scattered information, analysis and case studies (both best practices and not so good practices), different strategies that are being carried out, new areas of environment and development discipline and second generation issues on environment including judicial trends have still not been adequately studied and synthesized. It is here that SANEL, with its rich network of professionals will contribute personal time and also resources to make it a self-sustaining network in the near future. It is with this idea that SANEL has been formed. SANEL's longterm aim is to serve as the foremost think tank on enviro legal issues in the region outside the formal system.
The activities of SANEL would include but not limited to the following: