Law's new chair will help promote environmental sustainability

Issued by North West University
Johannesburg, Jun 5, 2018

The Faculty of Law at the North-West University (NWU) has just received its first Research Chair under the National Research Foundation's South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChi).

The Chair in Cities, Law and Environmental Sustainability (CLES) was secured by Prof An'el du Plessis, who will direct its activities for the next five years.

Nedbank and the NRF are jointly funding the Chair, which builds on more than two decades of work in the faculty on the intersecting area of human development and environmental law and governance.

Prof Du Plessis says the SARChi CLES Chair is premised on the priority set in South Africa's National Development Plan and the Integrated Urban Development Framework (2016) to address developmental challenges and build community resilience in an environmentally sustainable way.

"Government aims to do so by building sustainable communities through well-structured developmental planning processes that help to guide them to optimally manage natural resources and environmental risks in the pursuit of social and economic goals."

She says the government also wants to improve local government performance, ensuring quality service delivery and developing communities that are safe and sustainable. This dovetails with Goal 11 on sustainable cities and communities of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals and its New Urban Agenda.

Prof Du Plessis says the pursuit of environmental sustainability and resilient communities is highly complex. It depends on an intricate mix of limited natural resources, political will, human capital, governance capacity and an enabling regulatory framework.

"It is critical for scholars, students, government and civil society to have a command of the governance principles, duties and rights of communities and municipalities, and the governance instrumentation provided for in local government and environmental law."

She says the Chair's focus is on South African law as a vehicle for improving environmental sustainability in and of cities as a global ideal. In line with the international urban governance discourse, cities are not limited to large metropole areas but include urban municipalities.

"In the next five years, the Chair will critically engage with the juridical dimensions of the many efforts these municipalities will have to make to move towards environmental sustainability and resilient communities. This will entail optimally managing natural resources and environmental risks, such as climate change, and reaching their social and economic goals, such as safe and cohesive livelihoods."