Symposium on Global Environmental Law

4-5 September 2017, University of Strathclyde

Recordings of the presentations are available below and on the SCELG Youtube page.

On 4-5 September 2017, the BENELEX team and colleagues from the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance (SCELG) held a Symposium on Global Environmental Law. The Symposium provided an opportunity to discuss whether and to what extent the emerging concept of global environmental law can help shed new light on the evolution and challenges of environmental law across different levels and sectors.

The concept of global environmental law has attracted the attention of international environmental lawyers interested in interrogating the evolution of international environmental law beyond the inter-State paradigm that traditionally characterizes its study. Despite its ascendance in legal scholarship, however, global environmental law remains under-theorised, while relevant practice is still in need for more systematic observation and analysis. The Symposium thus endeavoured to provide an overview of the state-of-the-art in the discourse on global environmental law, as well as to suggest a future research agenda to address both theoretical and methodological issues.

At the start of the Symposium, Prof Neil Walker (University of Edinburgh) delivered a key-note address based on his book ‘Intimations of Global Law’, which synthesised different theories that speak to global law. This synthesis served as a point of departure for the discussants, namely, Prof Elisa Morgera (SCELG), Prof Kati Kulovesi (University of Eastern Finland), Prof Michael Mehling (MIT and SCELG), Prof Duncan French (University of Lincoln) and Dr Antonio Cardesa-Salzmann (SCELG), to further reflect on the theoretical underpinnings of global law; its utility as a teaching and research approach, a governance system, an interpretative approach and a distinct body of law; its interaction with theories of justice; and the role of ethics in relevant research.

This reflection provided a background against which to discuss practice in selected subject areas, with a view to testing whether, how and to what extent global environmental law as an analytical lens can be helpful to understand new forms of law and complex dynamics between law-makers at various levels and sectors. In two sessions moderated by UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Hilal Elver and Prof Elisa Morgera, Dr Kim Bower (SCELG), Dr Emanuela Orlando (University of Sussex), Dr Daniela Diz (SCELG), Prof Natasha Affolder (University of British Columbia), Dr Lorenzo Cotula (IIED and SCELG), Elsa Tsioumani (SCELG), Dr Annalisa Savaresi (University of Stirling) and Prof Melissa Tatum (Arizona University) discussed different aspects of global law in the context of, among others, climate change law, law of the sea, international investment law, and the customary law of indigenous peoples.

Finally, the Symposium engaged in a discussion on methodology, with a view to understanding whether global environmental law scholars need a distinctive methodology, what existing methodological approaches may be relevant, as well as the risks and challenges they bring. In a session chaired by Louisa Parks (University of Trento), Saskia Vermeylen (SCELG), Prof Barbara Pozzo (Università degli Studi dell'Insubria), Prof Adrian Martin (University of East Anglia), Prof Burkhard Schafer, (University of Edinburgh), Dr Claire Lajaunie (French Institute of Health and Medical Research) and Prof Pierre Mazzega (French National Centre for Research) discussed the potential relevance of comparative law, and the need for inter-disciplinary and empirical research.

Prof Richard Falk provided the closing remarks to the Symposium, highlighting the need for finding a balance between pragmatism and utopian thinking, legal idealism and radical critique, as elements of the ‘moral epistemology’ that is necessary to address the urgent environmental problems that humanity is faced with.

The Symposium was followed by a civic reception at the Glasgow City Chambers. The symposium will result in a special issue of the peer-reviewed journal Transnational Environmental Law in 2018. 

The Programme

Introduction – Prof. Elisa Morgera, BENELEX PI, Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance (SCELG), Strathclyde Law School

Keynote address – Prof. Neil Walker, University of Edinburgh School of Law, author of Intimations of Global Law (2015)

Day 1 – morning: Theory

  • Is global environmental law merely a helpful teaching and research approach, a governance system, an interpretative approach or a distinct body of law? 
  • Does global environmental law usefully add to existing theories of international and transnational environmental law?
  • Is global environmental law neutral or does it come loaded with a baggage of normative presumptions? Whose goals is it pursuing? Whose (world)views of the environment, and of the relationship between environment and society, is it based upon? Are global public goods an inherently positive driver for global environmental law?
  • To what extent does global environmental law engage with theories of justice? Does the plurality of actors and actions come with implications for the definition of public goods, primacy of certain goods over others, the role of the State and concepts of legitimacy?
  • Is there a place for ethics in global environmental law scholarship and practice (technical advice)?

Chair: Prof. Elisa Morgera, BeneLex PI 
Discussant: Prof Neil Walker 


  • Prof Michael Mehling, Deputy Director of the Centre for Energy and Environmental Policy Research at MIT and Professor at SCELG
  • Prof Kati Kulovesi, University of Eastern Finland*
  • Prof Duncan French, University of Lincoln School of Law*
  • Dr Antonio Cardesa-Salzmann, SCELG

Day 1 – afternoon: Practice (I)

  • How has global environmental law manifested itself in each of the selected subject areas?
  • Is the interaction between international/EU/national environmental law, multilateral and bilateral initiatives, and the customary law of indigenous peoples and local communities the result of an increasingly conscious and strategic reliance on the mutual influences between different legal orders? Is the reliance on a multiplicity of actors and multiplicity of legal orders resulting in mutual supportiveness or fragmentation of environmental law?
  • Which actors and practitioners, and their views, are particularly influential in the development of global environmental law and to what ends? 
  • Can international law address the specificities of local complexities?

Chair: Dr Francesco Sindico, UN Environment
Discussant: Dr Annalisa Savaresi, BENELEX researcher, Stirling University


Day 2 - morning: Practice (II)

Chair: Hilal Elver, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
Discussant: Elsa Tsioumani, BENELEX researcher, Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance


Day 2 - afternoon: Methodology

  • Do global environmental law scholars need a distinctive methodology? Which existing methodological approaches (in particular the debate on the comparative legal method/s) may be relevant, and what risks and challenges can they bring about?
  • What role and challenges for inter-disciplinarity in global environmental law scholarship?
  • What role and challenges for empirical research in global environmental law scholarship?
  • What role and challenges for big data in global environmental law scholarship?

Chair: Louisa Parks, BENELEX researcher, University of Lincoln School of Social and Political Sciences
Discussant: Dr Saskia Vermeylen, Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance


Concluding remarks - Prof Richard Falk, author of This Endangered Planet (1972)

Civic Reception (open to all registered symposium participants) at Glasgow City Chambers

* Members of the BeneLex Board of Advisors