In Memoriam: Marc Pallemaerts

4th September 1960 to 2nd May 2014


Europe has lost one of its most respected and able environmental lawyers and committed advocates for environmental justice with the death of Marc Pallemaerts, very sadly at the age of only 53. Marc combined many roles as an academic, active policy maker and advocate, analyst, mentor and most recently as Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council. He was also a valued member of the IEEP team. Marc joined the institute as a Senior Fellow in the Brussels office in December 2005 and held a number of senior positions, until recently being the Head of the Global Issues and External Action Programme.


Having studied law and political science at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels and been a brilliant student, Marc obtained Masters both in this university and Harvard, specialising in international and environmental law. This was the foundation for an impressive academic career leading to professional posts at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the University of Amsterdam where he was Professor of European environmental law. He contributed to countless scientific books, conferences, international and national journals. Alongside this he played an active role in government service in Belgium, working for a succession of environment and energy ministers at regional and national levels as a member of staff or legal adviser. This involved a growing engagement in international climate policy, a realm in which he was to become a notable expert, with hands on experience as well as legal expertise. When working as Deputy Chief of Staff to the Belgian Federal State Secretary for Energy and Sustainable Development between 1999 and 2003, he chaired the EU Council Working Party responsible for the climate change negotiations during the Belgian Presidency of the EU in 2001, acting as lead negotiator for the Presidency at the UN climate change conferences in Bonn and Marrakech.

Marc believed strongly in the Kyoto Protocol, the essential role of legally binding agreements and the need to hold signatories to account for the commitments they made. These were important themes in his work at IEEP, in a more personal role as a member of the Kyoto Protocol Compliance Committee as well as in the further provision of expert advice on international climate policy to the Belgian government. Marc attended many of the set-piece international climate negotiations, where he was a formidable and determined negotiator on behalf of the EU or Belgian authorities and a wry observer of the way in which EU countries conducted and coordinated their business in the global arena. He was alert to the importance of respecting the views and initiatives of national governments while maintaining a robust EU negotiating position.

Another major theme in Marc’s work was access to environmental justice for citizens and NGOs in particular. He was closely involved in the negotiation and implementation of the Aarhus Convention and amongst other roles, served as chairman of the Meeting of the Parties to the Convention from 2003 to 2005. Concerned with access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters, the Convention came into force in 2007. Marc had an instrumental role in the drafting of the access to justice element of the text and some of its most important provisions, such as Article 1, establishing the right of future generations to a healthy environment.

Marc was also the driving force in establishing a new non-profit organisation ECOSPHERE –The European Centre on Sustainable Policies on Human and Environmental Rights. As President in the first four years he organised a series of conferences on different multilateral environmental agreements, including on the coming into force of the Kyoto Protocol.

Given this track record Marc was well qualified for the role of UN Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes. Taking this on in late 2012 he was planning how best to execute it and establishing an active programme of visits to key countries in the coming year.

A third and related theme of Marc’s work was the control of chemicals and toxic substances. This began with growing concern about the international trade in pesticides which were not legal in their country of origin and were having major human health and environmental impacts in the developing world. First meeting activist networks during a visit to California he soon became seriously engaged. He wrote a number of papers on this topic and a major book “Toxics and Transnational Law” (Hart Publishing, Oxford 2003). His quiet work behind the scenes with the FAO in developing the text and lobbying for the international pesticide code of conduct and particularly the “prior informed consent” initiative was widely admired and undoubtedly influential in shaping the outcome. He remained a friend of the Pesticide Action Network and believer in the general role of civil society organisations.

This was one of the first but by no means the last chapter in his engagement with NGOs. He was an active chairman of Greenpeace Belgium for several years in the 1980s, with a close interest in their European work. He wrote several incisive papers for NGOs in addition to his large volume of academic articles, conference papers, and book chapters. He had an ability to articulate the importance of a European approach to environmental issues in many contexts and with great clarity. When the European Chemical Agency was established in Helsinki, Marc, as the head of the Environmental Governance Programme at IEEP, was put forward by NGOs to represent civil society on the newly established Management Board. He was duly appointed to this role by the Commission in 2007. In post he helped to establish processes to engage civil society in the new Agency and later became a member of its Board of Appeal.

His work at the institute addressed various aspects of European environmental governance, including the EU Sustainable Development Strategy on which he wrote several reports and organised an important conference on the external aspects of the Strategy with the Belgian Royal Institute for International Relations. He also contributed to work on the 6th Environmental Action Programme, preparing analysis together with IEEP colleagues which exposed some of the weaknesses of the Programme and influenced new thinking on the future direction of European environmental policy, a body of law which Marc was always ready to defend. A report in 2009 on the EU’s compliance with the Aarhus Convention obligations on access to justice found major problems of non-compliance and proposed solutions to address them. In the realm of climate change his themes included energy and climate change in Russia, linkages with energy security, transatlantic dialogues between EU and US civil society on climate and energy policy, and how climate objectives could be built in to the EU budget. He also co-edited a book on “The New Climate Policies of the European Union” (Brussels University Press, Brussels, 2010) which provided an assessment of the EU’s climate and energy policies at a pertinent time.

Greater justice and fair treatment for developing countries was another strong theme of Marc’s work. One of his most incisive reports for the institute in 2009 reviewed the EU’s track record in meeting its commitments to provide financial support for climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. It revealed a lack of transparency as well as lower budgets than had been pledged. This was a topic he was planning to re-visit in the coming year.

Marc was an inspiring, supportive and rigorous colleague. For many years he was a pillar of the institute, with astute insights into innumerable aspects of environmental law and European policy. We all benefitted from his distinctive combination of clarity, fearlessness, undeterred persistence and almost shy charm. He will be greatly missed, within and beyond the institute.

See other tributes to Marc here: