BENELEX publishes special issue on global environmental law

March 2020: Several SCELG colleagues have contributed to a special issue of the Transnational Environmental Law journal on global environmental law, as part of the European Research Council-funded  BENELEX  project led by Prof Elisa Morgera.

Global environmental law aims to capture the complexity of environmental goals being pursued in increasingly inter-linked legal ways that defy our usual approaches to teaching and researching environmental law in siloes. Innovative linkages are increasingly established in practice between international environmental treaties, regional coordination processes, bilateral trade agreements, private-law contracts, transnational litigation and certification schemes, national laws and the customary norms of indigenous peoples and local communities. These legal developments are often motivated by the need to enhance the effectiveness of measures in a variety of contexts - wildlife trafficking, illegal fishing, bio-based innovation or carbon finance, to name a few examples.

The special issue discusses why and how we need to better understand these legal interactions: what presumptions lie behind these developments?  Whose goals are driving them? Are particular views of the environment and of society dominating these developments? Do they support environmental justice or hinder it? Are environmental legal scholars and professionals influencing these developments, strategically or inadvertently? And if so, do they have responsibilities in how they carry out their work?

The special issue included articles by a number of SCELG experts:

  • Michael Mehling and Elisa Morgera wrote the opening article on the risks in global environmental law of reflecting elitist and hegemonic worldviews and the opportunities to expand the breadth of voices reflected in the creation and application of environmental norms (available open access here);
  • Antonio Cardesa-Salzmann has reflected on the limited capacity of sustainable development to contribute to global justice in the context of global finance, energy, and environmental protection;
  • Elisa Morgera and BENELEX research Louisa Parks (University of Trento) have underscored the need for iterative research methods and ethics in understanding unpredictable meanings of environmental law at different levels (internationally as opposed to locally) by various actors with different cultural and political sensitivities (available as a BENELEX working paper here); and
  • Claire Lajaunie and Pierre Mazzega (SCELG associates and One Ocean Hub researchers) have explored the opportunities offered by ‘big data’ to provide new powerful methods for the research of global environmental law, but also new practical and ethical challenges.

Overall, the authors have both pointed at gaps and limitations in current scholarship on global environmental law, as well as various promising directions to overcome current shortcomings. From different perspective, they all call upon international, transnational and comparative environmental law scholars and practitioners to contribute to debates on global justice by reflecting on their own biases and blind spots in understanding how their own work influences the ongoing evolution of environmental law.

Policy-relevant research

The research undertaken under the BENELEX project has contributed to various international processes, through consultancies to the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity and contributions to the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment. Key findings from BENELEX research have also contributed to shape the research agenda of the One Ocean Hub