Friday, May 28, 2021

Sustainability Case Studies 19: Environmental Law

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This is the 19th post in this blog series, Sustainability Case Studies, that is based on the book The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability: Case Studies and Practical Solutions edited by Robert Brinkmann (yours truly) and Sandra Garren and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. Each post in the series will comment on the content of the chapter as well as some general take-aways or practical teaching or personal/organizational initiatives that could be gleaned from the chapter. Links to previous posts on the series (including the post that introduced the series) follow after the review.

This chapter is called Environmental Law and is by Yumiko Nakanishi of Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo. The chapter begins with a background around environmental law within the confines of sustainability--particularly sustainable development. As the author points out in the introductory paragraph, there are questions as to whether or not sustainable development can be considered a legal principle. 


Regardless, the chapter does review some of the main international agreements and accords that address sustainable development such as Our Common Future, the Rio Declaration, Agenda 21, the UN Millennium Development Goals, the outcome from the Rio+20 meeting in 2012--The Future We Want, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. These agreements are largely considered soft law. For the most part, they do not have binding requirements. As a result, the ability to fulfill the intent of the agreements varies considerable from country to country.

The article points out, however, that these international agreements have led to the development of regional, national, and local soft and hard laws. For example, Article 20a of the German Constitution brings in the idea of sustainable development. The European Union took a more specific approach in adopting a series of environmental policy guidelines and priorities. However, these have not been widely tested in courts and it is unclear if they will be binding.

The chapter concludes with a discussion of new trends in environmental law within the context of sustainable development. New agreements between nations are now specifically addressing sustainability. For example the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement with nations in much of the Pacific rim, specifically recognizes sustainable development in several ways including issues of biodiversity and education of policy. A trade agreement between the European Union and Canada, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, has a whole chapter on sustainable development. Thus, there are emerging international binding agreements on sustainable development within the realm of trade agreements outside of the realm of the United Nations.

The article takes a very specific look within one aspect of environment law--sustainable development--to see how it is applied within international agreements. As the author points out, much of the legal framework around sustainable development falls within the realm of soft law. However, there are emerging trends that better codify how nations navigate sustainable development policy.

Click here for more information about the book.

Here are some discussion questions when using this chapter for a unit on environmental law within the realm of sustainable development. These were suggested by the author within the chapter.

1. How is sustainable development defined?

2. From where does the concept of sustainable development emerge?

3. How has the concept of sustainable development developed?

4. What is the legal character of sustainable development?

5. How is sustainable development expressed in economic, social, and environmental issues?

6. How is sustainable development expressed at international, regional, and national levels?

7. What is the principle of environmental integration in EU law?

8. How is sustainable development expressed in free-trade agreements?

Previous Entries in This Series


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