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School of Law

International environmental law

Course Code:
Unit value:
Taught in:
Full Year

This course focuses on international legal and institutional arrangements concerning the conservation and use of the environment. It examines both theoretical and practical dimensions of these arrangements.

This course explores some of the most salient aspects of the expanding area of international environmental law. It examines, in particular, global environmental issues that have risen to the top of the international law and policy agenda in the wake of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio Conference) and the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development.

The notion of sustainable development occupies an important place in this course. It provides an acknowledgement that environmental law needs to be considered at the same time as social and economic dimensions of development. This broader framework which puts environmental issues in the much broader context of development constitutes the overall framework of reference within which environmental law is to be considered today. This implies, for instance, that many environmental law issues have an important North-South dimension which is considered in this course.

The course highlights several key aspects of international environmental law. It provides:

  • an introduction to the principles of international environmental law (such as the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and the precautionary principle), 
  • issues related to the protection of the environment (hazardous activities, wastes, air pollution), 
  • the conservation of the environment (species, biological diversity) 
  • and the use/exploitation of environmental resources (trade in animal parts, genetic resources, genetically modified organisms).

This course also examines questions related to compliance, effectiveness and the enforcement of international environmental law. This includes, for instance, an examination of liability and redress and compliance mechanisms.

The course further examines environmental issues in their broader context. It thus considers, for instance, the link between human rights and the environment and the link between trade and the environment. It may also consider issues such as links between intellectual property rights and the environment or war and the environment.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

The course seeks to introduce the general international legal and institutional framework relating to the management of the environment. It is designed to equip students with analytical tools with which they may understand the international legal framework of environmental law in its broader context, including political, economic, social and ecological dimensions.

Method of assessment

50% unseen examination, 50% coursework (one essay of 5,000 words)

All coursework may be resubmitted.