Universiteit Leiden

nl en

A better world begins with bringing together economic law, environmental law and human rights

Economic law, environmental law and human rights are important fields of law for sustainable development. But they do not interact sufficiently, which makes it difficult to implement sustainable development. Professor Daniëlla Dam-de Jong therefore argues for stronger connections between these fields of law.

‘Sustainable development is about preserving all that we have for future generations and sharing it fairly within a generation’, Daniëlla Dam-de Jong, Professor of International Law, explains. ‘We want everyone living today to be able to use what the earth has to offer, but for our children and grandchildren to be able to do so too. And that is a big challenge. We want to preserve the environment for the future and to keep and fairly share the prosperity we have now.’

Poor alignment between fields of law

The fields of international economic law, international environmental law and human rights are all important to the implementation of sustainable development, says Dam-de Jong. The only problem is that they are currently not well enough aligned to work together effectively. This is because they use different definitions or prioritise different interests, for example. ‘A term like development, for instance, is defined within commercial law and investment law – both part of economic law – purely as economic growth’, says Dam-de Jong.  ‘In human rights, however, development is more likely to be defined as welfare. And welfare happens to be something that economic law – which primarily protects economic interests – hardly looks at, if at all.’

Dam-de Jong plans to spend the next few years researching how the norms and various mechanisms from these fields of law can be brought more closely together. ‘Humans, the environment and the economy are presented as three interrelated areas that are all essential to sustainable development policies, but in practice people and the environment are still too often pushed aside when economic interests are at stake. This will no longer be so easy once these three are normatively linked.’

Successful examples of normative integration

Fortunately, says Dam-de Jong, the normative integration process for these areas of law is already underway. Human rights and international environmental law in particular are increasingly seen in conjunction, which has positive effects on, for example, the enforceability of states’ obligations under environmental law. ‘A weakness in environmental law is that it only applies between states, so individuals and interest groups cannot enforce those obligations. In contrast, in the field of human rights, an individual can go to court and argue that a state is violating human rights through failed environmental policies. So you see now that environmental litigation is often fought through human rights and this compensates for this weakness in environmental law.’

An example of such a lawsuit is the 2015 Urgenda ruling. Dam-de Jong argues that it would never have been successful had it been fought through environmental law because individuals cannot challenge environmental treaties. ‘But Urgenda was successful because the foundation accused the Netherlands of violating human rights by not meeting its climate commitments.’

Text: Sabine Waasdorp
Image: Pixabay

This website uses cookies.  More information.