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International Law: Ecological Integrity and Human Rights

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Like science and ethics, the law is a significant contributor to advancing ecological integrity. A number of countries have developed legislation and policies around the concept of ecological integrity and the body of legal research into ecological integrity is constantly growing. Yet, legal systems are reactive in character, often resistant to innovation and not at the forefront of social change. This is particularly true of international law which lacks many of the features of modern national legal systems.

This part of the book examines several innovative trends in international law. Each of the following five chapters aims not only to achieve a better understanding of the current law, but also its potential for change.

Joseph Dellapenna sets the scene with an account of what international law is and how it works. With many of its legal characteristics and practical effects still in doubt, Dellapenna considers international law a “primitive system” which cannot solve the world's problems by itself. It is, however, an essential element of any solution. For more effectiveness, international law needs a fully developed institutional framework.

The inefficiency of international law is of particular concern it relates to issues of ecological integrity. Transnational environmental harm, for example, is at odds with national boundaries determining any legal responsibilities. In her chapter, Sara Seck shows the detrimental consequences of the mismatch between ecological and legal boundaries, but does so through the Third World Approach to International Law (TWAIL), questioning the global nature of current international law. With its emphasis on home state regulation and local autonomy, TWAIL makes the point that the “global” effectively appears in the “local”.

TWAIL is part of the wider search for effective law and governance. In recent years, this search has been extended to include global constitutionalism. This is the subject of Bosselmann's chapter. As a more positive effect of globalisation, national constitutions have increasingly followed similar ideas, principles and values. If there is indeed a trend towards greater global commonality, the possibility of a global constitution – shaped around democracy, human rights and responsibilities - may arise. To this end, the Earth Charter offers practical inspiration and guidance.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2011

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