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Updated: Sep 22, 2020

More than 9000 people from around the world descended this month on the Hawaii Convention Center to participate in the 2016 World Conservation Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This conference of the world’s leading authorities on environmental stewardship happens every four years and has never before been hosted in the United States.

President Obama arrived on the eve of the congress, delivered an address at the East West Center, then flew out to Midway Island the following day to check in on the newly expanded Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, the largest protected area in the world.

The President of Palau, Tommy Remengesau, noted in his opening ceremonies address that his island nation committed its entire exclusive economic zone (EEZ), about the size of California, to conservation and that 80 percent of this area is protected as a no-take zone. He advocates that 30 percent of the world oceans should be so protected. President Remengesau added that only two percent of our oceans are presently protected and that the United States has a vast EEZ. His next statement, “And so, I commend President Obama on the monument expansion; it is a good start.” was met with good cheer.

The “Olympics of Conservation” brings together government leaders, international high court justices, renowned experts in virtually every environmental discipline, universities, and thousands of lesser known organizations and experts. A typical day might involve a presentation by Jane Goodall, the famous advocate for chimpanzees, while experts in the protection of endangered species, delivery of clean water to impoverished villages, forest rehabilitation, climate change and more, share their research and recommendations in adjacent rooms. Dozens of simultaneous presentations, continuously delivered over the first five days, overwhelmed many. The final five days involved assembly debate and action.

Antonio Benjamin, a charismatic justice on the National High Court of Brazil, has been greatly involved in world-wide efforts to establish environmental courts. He chairs the World Commission on Environmental Law, one of the six global commissions of the IUCN. Over twelve hours on Labor Day, he led discussions that involved law students, international and federal judges, justices of the Hawaii Supreme Court, and an environmental prosecutor who worked on the BP Horizon catastrophe. I attended the second half of what one panelist called a three-day-seminar-held-in-one-day.

Environmental courts and other specialty courts facilitate better administration of what can be very complex matters. Cases that previously got bogged down while courts attempted to research the latest science and appropriate remedies are now more efficiently dispatched by judges who specialize in these types cases. Hawaii began referring cases to environmental courts last year.

Congratulations to Denise Antolini on her recognition at the Colloquium on Judges and Nature during the IUCN. Justice Benjamin was joined by Hawaii Justice Michael Wilson and Avi Soifer, Dean of the UH Richardson Law School, in a tribute to Denise’s years of service and achievement for environmental law and environmental protection.

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