International Environmental Law and Governance (IELG)

Course Level: 
Course Open to: 
Students on-site
Remote students
Academic Year: 
US Credits: 
ECTS Credits: 
Course Code: 
ENVS 5184
Course Description: 

This course looks at environmental challenges from the legal and governance perspective and provides a foundation in the relevant core concepts, actors, drivers and institutions. Building upon other coursework in which students have learned about the state of the environment, the nature of environmental problems, and societal responses to the same, the course brings into focus the roles of the law and other governance mechanisms in such responses, through customary rules, political and policy responses, legal principles, treaties and jurisprudence, at global, regional and national levels.  The field of environment and sustainability presents special challenges to traditional law and governance mechanisms, requiring an all-of-society response that leads very often to innovations and modifications of standard models.  


The course leads students to evaluate the overall effectiveness of particular examples of the use of governance instruments to address the underlying drivers of environmental degradation and to solve environmental problems and discusses multi-level environmental governance as a means for the diffusion of environmental norms. The unit aims at increasing understanding of the legal system in its various guises and its approach to environmental and sustainable development issues.  Beginning with an historical overview of the international legal and institutional framework relating to sustainable development, it provides a basic grounding in international law and institutional processes leading to the establishment of legal norms.  Issues of implementation, enforcement and maximization of resources, including partnerships with major groups, are also discussed. Among the principles and concepts to be discussed are the principles of intergenerational equity, the principle of prevention, precautionary principle, the concept of sustainable development and the polluter pays principle. Domestic and international legal remedies will be examined. 


Particular agreements are also looked into to determine how they contribute to regime formation, and how states implement and enforce them to achieve compliance.  Specific attention is paid to innovative regimes that test the boundaries of traditional international and environmental law, such as the UNFCCC and UNCLOS.  The development of concepts of the right to a healthy environment and its operational effect through human rights jurisprudence and implementation of the Aarhus Convention are discussed, as well as international jurisprudence related to sustainability.  


Environmental issues such as climate change are increasingly recognized as security challenges.  The phenomena of securitization and desecuritization are related in the course to the modification of legal and governance mechanisms in response to environmental challenges with differing perspectives from radical change to maintaining the status quo.  Migration, the responsibility to protect, and corporate accountability are also briefly surveyed in relation to international law and governance.


Learning Outcomes: 

Understand the origins, the position, the logic and key concepts of international environmental law and governance, and the evolution and structure of sustainable development in law and governance.

Be familiar with the structures and processes of international environmental governance, including the system of international organizations and multilateral environmental agreements, concepts relating to securitization and desecuritization of environment, conflict and migration, and corporate accountability.


Exam (50%)

In-class presentation (20%)

Pop quiz(zes) (15%)

participation (15%)