the future of environmental law mapping

By Laurent Granier, ecocy director

Geographical Information Systems - GIS and mapping offers great opportunities for the transfer of legal data "from vertical books to horizontal maps". GIS applications have been evolving in many directions, well beyond geography. Environmental economics, but also social, health or administrative data are now aggregated with scientific representations. The methods for environmental and social mapping are now going participatory too. Together, these tools offer new, integrated, visions of our territories (or anthromes) and should question environmental lawyers and policy makers. Maps and plans have been considered as legal tools in urban and planning law since a long time. The French "Plan Local d'Urbanismes" (formerly "POS") with its "graphical documents" are both legally binding. Sectoral environmental legislation also offers legally binding spatial representations, such as boundaries in protected areas, water catchments or industrial zones. In international law, the Counsil of
Europe developped  guidelines on coastal management
that include "legal mapping" as a relevant tool (art. 26). Part of our environmental legislation is made of data, standards and zones that makes sens horizontally.

Another strong tendency that should lead us through more legal mapping is the need to aggregate more and more rules and multiple status (of land). This applies both in developing and rich countries. There is for example no real understanding of the future of a protected area (PA) without looking to the diverse rules applying on its surrounding lands, forests, concessions, villages, etc. In European and North American contexts, the multiplication of layers, and the necessary need to coordinate sectoral policies are leading managers to a greater use of mapping, in order to get a "better global picture".  These online examples of legal mapping offer different perspectives on the challenges of representing rules. They usually do it through zoning, colours and associated obligations. Most of them show it is a tendency to use these compilation systems to aggregate geographical, ecological, administrative and legal data.