The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law series
Chapter 1: The search for environmental justice
Environmental law in the 20th century emerged from a growing awareness of the increasing harms to the physical world, and thus to the interests of human beings, from the impacts of technology, industry and growing populations. The legal instruments used were principally regulatory, relying upon the powers exercised by states over corporations and citizens within their jurisdictions. Many developments have altered the nature of the challenges and thus the focus and methods of environmental law. This has generated many instruments and strategies, starting with the explosion of environmental regulation last century, and then the use of market instruments and industry and civil society initiatives. Part of the process has been a realisation that accumulating environmental harms can prejudice ecosystems, and jeopardise the health and welfare of people. There has been a growing awareness that those directly dependent upon natural systems, particularly Indigenous peoples, are often those most threatened. There is an increasing recognition that nation-state governance systems are often insufficiently effective, particularly in recognition of and respect for the interests of the less powerful. As a result the ideal of environmental justice has become an important concern. Gradually justice concepts are becoming part of the political narrative of international and national environmental law. Frequently in the early stages of development of social innovation there are competing paradigms.