UN Launches Open Access Information Portal on Concepts and Frameworks of Environmental Law

The United Nations has launched the Law and Environmental Ontology. This new tool aims to ensure that policy makers, citizens and researchers around the world have up-to-date and timely access to environmental law. The Law and Environment Ontology (LEO) portal provides an overview of concepts, definitions and synonyms in conventions as well as the relationship between different Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs).

About the Law and Environmnet Ontology (LEO)

LEO draws from the information tools ECOLEX, FAOLEX and InforMEA, which together cover more than 105,000 national laws, 2000 cases, almost 5,000 national reports, 500 action plans, more than 2000 global, regional and bilateral environmental conventions and 10,000 decisions of their governing bodies. It contains  maps, info-graphics and text. The ontology is complimented by an extensive e-learning tool that allows the public to gain a comprehensive understanding of MEAs.

This new resource aims to assist all users by allowing open and easily accessible information on most aspects of current environmental laws and processes. While novices, such as students, are encouraged to use LEO; the resource seeks, in particular, to allow open access to environmental laws and agreements to academic researchers, senior NGO staff, governmental policy makers, members of the judiciary and environmental journalists.


This is the first time that United Nations environmental and legal communities have come together, on such a scale, to provide much needed information and knowledge on environmental law that is freely accessible and easy to search. 

Partners involved in developing and ensuring that current content remains accessible and up-to-date include United Nations organizations (FAO, UNESCO, UNECE, UNEP) as well as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the European Environmental Agency (EEA), the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), the Legal Response Initiative (LRI), and UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP-WCMC) and specialized agencies and environmental conventions covering international trade in endangered wildlife, migratory wildlife, biodiversity, genetic resources, desertification, climate change, ozone agreements and agriculture.

LEO was developed with support by the European Union and is broadly endorsed and launched at the 6th Information and Knowledge Management (IKM) MEA Steering Committee Meeting  held on 15-17 September 2015, which was addressed by Executive Heads of six global Conventions.

Use case

LEO allows researchers to gain both a quick and an in depth overview of a topic, depending on the search used and the level of expertise needed. The impact is expected to be significant. For example, a delegate from a small island state who has had to prepare a briefing on marine debris would previously have had to find out which environmental conventions have adopted decisions on marine debris, and then search their respective websites.

Previously, similar information would have required a specifically worded request, which in turn would have required the searcher to already have an established base of knowledge. LEO will further improve with time, as further progress is made in the harmonization of terminology and uniform vocabulary standards used by MEAs.

This information used for this item was adapted from this Press release