ECOLEX | The gateway to environmental law What is ECOLEX? ECOLEX is an information service on environmental law, operated jointly by FAO, IUCN and UNEP. Its purpose is to build capacity worldwide by providing the most comprehensive possible global source of information on environmental law . This unique resource, which combines the environmental law information holdings of FAO, IUCN and UNEP, seeks to put this information at the disposal of users world-wide, in an easily accessible service, employing modern technology. The ECOLEX database includes information on treaties, international soft-law and other non-binding policy and technical guidance documents, national legislation, judicial decisions, and law and policy literature. Users have direct access to the abstracts and indexing information about each document, as well as to the full text of most of the information provided. What is now available on the web (www.ecolex.org) owes much to a project funded by the Dutch government, which ascertained the feasibility of a joint service, and set the stage for the implementation of the resulting partnership between FAO, IUCN and UNEP. This joint service is now being further refined and developed by the three partners to best meet the needs of the user. Why ECOLEX? Environmental law has, over the past thirty years, become a recognized legal discipline, and a major tool for the achievement of environment and natural resources management, in the context of sustainable development. Within this field, there has been a significant growth in multilateral and bilateral agreements, national legislation, international "soft law" documents, and law and policy literature, as well as related jurisprudence and court decisions. Yet, much of this wealth of information is difficult to access, even for those whose profession is to develop and implement national legal mechanisms in the field. There are two causes for this difficulty: first, there is limited knowledge about the existence and location of this information; second, even when this information is available, access is limited. This is particularly the case in developing countries and countries with economies in transition, where government officials, practitioners, environmental managers, non-profit institutions and academia lack easy access to the legal information they need for developing the necessary legal tools to promote environmental management. The need for such services is illustrated in the constantly growing number and variety of requests for data, and for assistance in locating information on specific environmental law topics, which FAO, IUCN and UNEP receive from governments, academia, including NGOs, companies and members of the public. Why FAO, IUCN and UNEP? -- a bit of history The FAO Legal Office has developed FAOLEX, a database of references to national legislation linked to electronic versions of their texts. Selected texts of major significance pertaining to FAO's mandate, including legislation on agriculture, energy, environment, fisheries, food, forestry, land, livestock, mineral resources, plants, water, wild fauna and flora, are summarized and indexed in the database. Access to the summary, index and full text of each piece of legislation is provided. IUCN Environmental Law Centre (ELC) created a comprehensive information system on environmental law (ELIS) in the 1960's. ELIS, which was one of the first computerized legal information system, evolved into a large set of references to treaties, national legislation, soft law and legal literature, linked to documents held in the libraries of the ELC for the IUCN Environmental Law Programme. It continues to be one of the main assets of the capacity building activities of the IUCN Environmental Law Programme, as well as a constant source of expertise for the work of the Programme in the fields of law development, technical assistance, and expertise building. UNEP, for the past thirty years UNEP has provided leadership to the development and implementation of global and regional international environmental agreements, the strengthening of national environmental legislation and capacity building in the field of environmental law. This work which has been undertaken within the framework of the Governing Council decisions relating to the Development and Review of Environmental Law, and has led to the collection of a very significant amount of legal materials in electronic and hardcopy form, which have been made available by UNEP to ECOLEX. To join forces and combine the strength of the three organizations therefore made eminent sense, and while cooperation in this field between UNEP and IUCN was firstly mandated by the Governing Council of UNEP in 1995, it is in 2001 that a partnership Agreement was signed by FAO, IUCN and UNEP for the integration of their data, and of FAOLEX into ECOLEX. The resulting combined information resource is the largest available on environmental law globally, with over hundred thousand references to relevant documents already being available on the web. The Overall Objectives ECOLEX must be maintained, refined and further developed with a view to serving the end users as efficiently as possible. In this context, the long-term objectives of ECOLEX in building capacity worldwide are as follows: Maintain, refine and develop the environmental law databank and its related information and resources; Present these data in a user-friendly format, facilitating searches for references and full texts through the development of multilingual retrieval possibilities (English, French, Spanish); Provide global access to the database in an efficient and cost-effective manner; Address the special needs and access problems of users; Develop a distributed network of associates, at regional and national level; Develop special ECOLEX products and services aimed at increasing knowledge and building capacity in environmental law at the local, national and regional levels; and Expand the consortium of partners of ECOLEX.