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Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (CeDEP)

International Environmental Law

Course Code:
P514
Unit value:

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 need for institutions, laws and agreements that can appropriately and fairly guide the trade-offs that may be needed between economic activity and environmental protection is a recurrent theme and issue in the module. This comes to the fore in relation to a wide range of natural resources, not least when concerned with international agreements that also seek to regulate international trade.

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

  • To outline the historic development of international environmental law and to identify and describe its basic principles and rules
  • To outline the international legal system within which these principles and rules have developed.
  • To consider the role of the concept of sustainable development and its impact on international environmental law in terms of attempts to reconcile developmental and environmental objectives.
  • To consider the adequacy of the international legal system to address substantive regional and global environmental concerns and to enable students to assess critically its effectiveness.
  • To examine critically the relevance of human rights and procedural rights to the development and implementation of international environmental law.

Scope and syllabus

Unit 1: Background Development and Sources
Unit 2: Global Environmental Compliance Management and State Liability
Unit 3: Governance and Principles of International Environmental Law
Unit 4: Air and Atmosphere
Unit 5: Freshwater Resources
Unit 6: The Sea and its Resources
Unit 7: Conservation of Biodiversity: Forestry, Wildlife, Fauna, and Flora
Unit 8: Hazardous Waste and Toxic Chemicals
Unit 9: Environmental Impact Assessment, Information and Public Participation
Unit 10: Environment and International Trade

Module sample

P514 module uses a core text which is specially written and will take you through your self-directed study. Exercises, assignments and other activities, such as self-assessment questions, film clips and animations are included to help you with learning. Most module study guides are now provided in electronic format on a USB flash memory stick, but can also be downloaded from the online learning environment. Click the linked image below to view a sample of our e-study guide: