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Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (CeDEP)

International Environmental Law

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This module looks at the principles and rules of international law which have as their primary objective the protection of the environment. The module addresses how the international community has recognised and sought to deal with the interdependence of the global environment, from early bilateral arrangements dealing principally with local trans-boundary pollution to more recent regional and international agreements.

Multilateral approaches to environmental problems have had to attempt to reconcile state sovereignty with the placing of limits on the rights of states and other members of the international community to carry out or permit environmentally damaging activities, as well as the interplay between environmental protection objectives and the economic and developmental needs of states.

The module outlines the international legal processes through which international environmental issues are addressed, the principles which underlie or guide the action taken, the substance of the principles and rules relating to environmental problems generally, including the principle of sustainable development, and various techniques for implementing these principles and rules. It considers how successfully the international legal instruments and processes under consideration achieve their objectives and how they might be improved.

In summary, in addition to providing a general introduction to the wide and dynamic field of international environmental law, the module seeks to address key contemporary issues of our planet – climate change and overexploitation of natural resources – their causes, catastrophic effects and potential legal solutions.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

  • The fundamental principles and rules of international environmental law, and the legal and institutional framework in which they have developed and are implemented.
  • Techniques and problems of implementing and enforcing international environmental law.
  • Methods which have developed to facilitate global participation in international environmental agreements and to address the relationship between environmental and developmental objectives.
  • A critical appreciation of how international environmental law develops and of its strengths and limitations.