HBKU’s New Environmental Law Course Welcomed by UN

HBKU’s New Environmental Law Course Welcomed by UN Environmental Programme

03 Mar 2020

Interview with Dr. Damilola S. Olawuyi, Associate Professor at the College of Law (CL), Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU)

HBKU’s New Environmental Law Course Welcomed by UN Environmental Programme

The College of Law (CL) at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) has officially introduced its first Environmental Law course. What is the significance of this great achievement?

The Environmental Law course is a child of necessity. It builds upon HBKU’s institutional commitment to deliver societally-relevant education and research that contributes to addressing Qatar’s grand challenges. To assist, the state has intensified efforts aimed at providing pioneering legal solutions to current and emerging environmental challenges facing our world. For example, the environmental pillar of Qatar National Vision (QNV) 2030 expressly recognizes the need for an “agile and comprehensive legal system that protects all elements of the environment, responding quickly to challenges as they arise.” Moreover, Article 7 of Qatar’s Environmental Protection Law recommends that “all authorities responsible for education shall include environmental awareness subjects in all educational stages.” Similarly, the Ministry of Municipality and Environment has issued 33 substantive laws that cast a spotlight on environmental protection.

It soon became clear to the CL that inspiring future generations of environmental innovators in Qatar requires cutting-edge training and research that supports the relevant priorities of QNV 2030. HBKU is proud to spearhead innovation in this area. Coming at a time of real need, this course provides exceptional opportunities for students to understand the values, assumptions, and guiding principles which underlie the field of global environmental law. Students will also discover how they can play leading roles in advancing the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in critical sectors of Qatar’s economy. 

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) West Asia has welcomed the introduction of this course. How do you feel about this and how important is its endorsement? 

We are deeply honored by UNEP’s recognition of our innovation and impact in this area.  This course would not have been possible without their support. Over the past two years, UNEP’s Law Division and regional office in West Asia have provided technical support, resources, and knowledge platforms that have enabled us to develop the Middle East and North Africa’s (MENA) most comparative environmental law course. 

This course also builds upon the gains of the Inaugural Conference of the Association of Environmental Law Lecturers in the Middle East and North Africa Universities (ASSELLMU) which was proudly sponsored by UNEP and Qatar National Research Fund, and hosted by HBKU in 2018.  UNEP’s recognition and support for our efforts to advance environmental law education in Qatar and across the MENA region is deeply important and will only motivate us to continue along this path. We are also delighted that our students will be able to obtain the UN Certificate in Environmental Governance. This certificate will significantly enable our graduates to become international leaders in this field in the near future. 

What is scope of this course? Can you tell us more about its content of the course and how it is linked to other core legal subjects?

Protecting and conserving the environment for present and future generations is a key principle of international law. Scientific studies also confirm that a well-protected environment free from pollution is essential to the overall health and vitality of human life and communities. To minimize environmental harm, Qatar has developed a comprehensive and committed legal order that places environmental protection very squarely at the heart of economic development. This course exposes students to the various legal regimes in Qatar and beyond that govern human relationships with the environment. Drawing on principles of ethics, ecology, economics, and the science of risk assessment, it also explores and analyzes regulatory regimes that promote water conservation, resource efficiency, green transportation, to name but a few. Students will also learn the art of lawyering in this complex and fascinating field.

What are the expected learning outcomes from this course? 

This course aims to advance societal awareness, knowledge and capacity development concerning environmental law and sustainability. It specifically focuses on issues related to water, energy and food security, climate change, clean technology entrepreneurship and the preservation of Qatar’s cultural heritage. In so doing, the course will directly contribute to QNV 2030’s goal of building an “environmentally aware population that values the preservation of the natural heritage of Qatar.” 

The course also provides cutting-edge knowledge on the laws and institutions that address specific environmental issues such as air pollution, water pollution, waste management, and environmental health in Qatar and beyond. Through field trips to key institutions and factories, students will also learn how lawyers and non-lawyers in government, business and finance integrate environmental considerations into the design, approval and financing of development projects and programs. 

What are the instruction methodologies employed while teaching this subject? Do you apply a theoretical, practical, or a combined approach while teaching this course? 

The course adopts a practical partnering pedagogy which focuses on the need for real-world application and links to classroom lessons. Unlike traditional classroom instruction models that tend to feed students with information, this course allows them to independently explore how to deploy scientific ideas to solve real-world problems. We provide a framework of key concepts, principles and theories in environmental law, and then allow students to explore how these apply to their current or future industries and sectors. Field trips also enable students to witness the real-life application of environmental planning, risk identification, mitigation and remediation. This learning approach equips students with practical knowledge and skills needed to excel in dynamic, multifaceted and technology driven sectors and industries. 

To what extent does this course adapt to international environmental law developments?

Environmental law is a dynamic and ever-changing field. A modern-day environmental lawyer must have the required knowledge, exposure and skills to analyze legal instruments in multiple convergent jurisdictions. The CL has therefore designed this course to be comparative, building on developments in common, civil and Sharia law. We provide an in-depth exploration of the models of environmental governance in diverse global markets and then explore how Qatar’s model of compares. This approach will enable our students to acquire good cognitive and technical skills to independently examine, research, and analyze the scope, content and innovative aspects of existing environmental governance regimes in Qatar and beyond.

How will the course contribute to preparing environmental law practitioners in Qatar and across the region? 

Environmental practitioners are often called upon to analyze and articulate the types of environmental, health and safety (EHS) issues that are likely to arise in the planning and delivery of major projects and events. This course will provide environmental practitioners with the skills to identify analyze how stakeholders from across Qatar’s economy have attempted to minimize EHS risks in their projects and operations. 

What issues make the teaching of climate and environmental law in the Qatar and the MENA region particularly important? 

Environmental law is an increasingly important field in an emerging global low carbon economy. Accordingly, there is a clear and urgent need to increase the number of qualified environmental specialists that can advance the implementation of the SDGs in Qatar and the MENA region. Yet, despite the emergence of policymaking processes concerning environmental challenges, research and education courses focused on environmental law and sustainable development research are limited. This course is an attempt to bridge this gap. By exposing students to cutting-edge training, the CL will equip a critical mass of future environmental administrators with the type of world class environmental law and governance skills required to contribute to the global economy. 

How does the CL cooperate with law schools across the MENA region?

Institutional cooperation and knowledge exchange can help educators and researchers to pool knowledge, skills and resources together to develop MENA-based solutions for region environmental and sustainable development challenges. To this end, HBKU is at the forefront of  efforts to improve environmental law education across the MENA region. 

In November 2018, the CL hosted the first Middle East Environmental Law Scholars’ Conference. Sponsored by the United Nations and Qatar National Research Fund, the conference provided an unprecedented opportunity for environmental experts, practitioners and scholars to brainstorm the most effective means of integrating environmental law teaching across the region. 

A significant outcome from the conference was the inauguration of the Association for Environmental Law Lecturers in Middle East and North African Universities (ASELLMU). ASELLMU now provides a professional network and hub for MENA scholars to exchange ideas, teaching material, pedagogy, best practices, and collaborate on research projects.  The organization’s 2nd conference was held in Settat, Morocco, in November 2019. Plans are already underway for another high-level event later this year that will bring together senior scholars to learn about research opportunities in Qatar and explore the potential for research collaboration.

What is the CL’s vision for the future, particularly when teaching climate change and environmental law?  

The CL will continue to serve as a focal point for tailored courses, innovative teaching methodologies, resources and models that enhance environmental law and sustainability in Qatar and across the MENA region. This course is one of many new innovative programs that CL is spearheading to enhance evidence-based policy making, societal awareness and local empowerment concerning environmental law and sustainability.