Big efforts to help small states

Published Aug 16, 2018

Two Victoria University of Wellington alumni are using their legal expertise to help the world’s small states protect their economies and environments—and Viclink is supporting the lawyers’ efforts in the Pacific Islands all the way.

Professor Petra Butler from Victoria University’s School of Law, and Dr Caroline Morris, now a Senior Lecturer at Queen Mary University of London’s School of Law, co-founded the Centre for Small States in 2015 to research the legal issues facing states with populations under 1.5 million.

“Because of their size, small states often don’t have the resources required to develop relevant policies and laws, and to then implement and enforce them,” explains Petra. “This can impact greatly on how they trade, and how they deal with the environmental issues that result from complex, multiple causes.” 

She says that many of the world’s small states are islands, which are particularly susceptible to environmental impacts. 

“While small states face the same environmental problems that the rest of the world does—climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, pollution, changes in oceans, and fisheries losses—the impact of these events can be disproportionately large,” she says. “Sea level rise and ocean acidification from climate change are affecting the very existence and survival of small island states.” 

Petra says that damage to the environment is putting pressure on the availability of resources such as food and clean water, causing a rise in climate-related litigation and disputes as a result. 

To help resource-strapped small states, the Centre is hosting a workshop and conference on environmental dispute resolution in London this September, bringing together small state stakeholders from around the world. Victoria University’s Associate Professor Catherine Iorns, a specialist in international environment law and climate change, has co-organised the events, while the University’s Professor Alberto Costi will speak at the conference about the reliance on science by courts and tribunals.  

Through Viclink, Petra has been able to secure funding from the New Zealand Aid Programme that will enable a number of officials from the Pacific Islands to attend and speak at the conference. “They’ll benefit from what they will learn, and share their own knowledge on the subject, contributing to global appreciation and understanding of Pacific experiences and expertise.” 

The conference marks the third time that Petra has worked with Viclink to support the Pacific Islands, with the previous two initiatives related to trade rather than the environment, but bound by the common theme of focusing on international dispute resolution. 

“To successfully participate in global trade, Pacific Island countries need a strong legislative framework that ensures their arbitration laws are recognised internationally,” says Petra. “We discussed the benefits of adopting international arbitration law at a seminar in Tonga in 2015, and followed this up with a second in Christchurch—alongside the PACER Plus negotiations—in 2016. Viclink helped us to secure funding for both seminars from the New Zealand Aid Programme, and have been just fantastic to work with. It’s great to have their support as we work to help our neighbours in the Pacific.”

Gary Ward, Viclink’s General Manager, Knowledge Services says the company is happy to help. 

“One of Victoria University’s primary goals is to contribute to the resolution of global challenges, particularly those which have a significant impact on the wider Asia-Pacific region,” he says. “We’re delighted that we can do our part to help achieve this goal—and, at the same time, support the School of Law alongside our alumni whose efforts are literally having global impact.” 

For more information, contact Petra Butler or Jeff Howe.