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Benjamin J. Richardson

Covid-19 has dominated global news in 2020, but even the pandemic has not stymied a new generation of activists mobilizing for action on interconnected grievances of climate breakdown, economic inequality and social injustice.

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Claire Burgess and Rupert Read

For this publication on environmental activism and the law, we interviewed representatives of Extinction Rebellion (XR) in the United Kingdom and Australia to explore their views on the goals, tactics and challenges for the movement. This report features interviews conducted in late 2019 with Claire Burgess (then regional coordinator XR Southern Tasmania, Australia) and Rupert Read (spokesperson for XR England and Reader in Philosophy, University of East Anglia). Both interviews, with identical questions, were conducted by Benjamin J Richardson, Professor of Environmental Law, University of Tasmania.

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Paul Manly, Jonathan Bartley and Chlöe Swarbrick

For this edition on environmental activism and the law, we examined how contemporary green political parties construe their role and relevance when many environmentalists including the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement are bypassing parliamentary processes by taking to the streets as well as by proposing alternate forms of political engagement such as convening national citizens’ assemblies. This report features interviews conducted in early 2020 with Paul Manly (MP, House of Commons, Green Party of Canada); Chlöe Swarbrick (MP, New Zealand Parliament, Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand); and Jonathan Bartley (Co-leader of the Green Party of England andWales, and councillor on Lambeth Council, London). Each interviewee responded to the same questions, which are detailed below. The interviews were conducted by Emma Thomas, XR Vancouver (interviewed Paul Manly); Trevor Daya-Winterbottom, FRGS, Associate Professor in Law, University of Waikato, and Deputy Chair of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law (interviewed Chlöe Swarbrick); and Benjamin J Richardson, Professor of Environmental Law, University of Tasmania (interviewed Jonathan Bartley).

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Itzchak Kornfeld

The case studies examined in this volume demonstrate the human rights abuses that State policies cause by building mega-dams without any forethought to the indigenous peoples whose homes will stand in the way of these vast concrete barrages. On one level, it is still perplexing to me why governments cause such pain and anguish to their citizens – and to their bureaucrats, police, and armies, who must deal with angry mobs of people, who are about to be dispossessed or who have already been driven out of their homes. Of course, on another level, one is not so naïve as not to recognize that power, politics, self-interest, and corruption are also the mainstay of governments and government policies.

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Itzchak Kornfeld

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Werner Scholtz and Michelle Barnard

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) collectively embody the global stance on the economic, social and environmental actions needed to achieve sustainable development. With reference to the environmental component of the SDG framework, one sees that four distinct Goals pertaining to different elements of planet earth, namely: the atmosphere (SDG 13), water resource – both fresh (SDG 6) and marine (SDG 14), as well as biodiversity (SDG 15) are included. The deconstruction of the environment in this way is strongly criticized by some as a step back from the single Millennium Development Goal (MDG) dealing with environmental sustainability (MDG 7) contained in the Millennium Declaration, 2000. The current approach to achieving sustainable development is now fragmented along the lines of the above-mentioned silo-ist division. Another point of criticism against the SDGs framework is the lack of explicit reference to international legal instruments pertaining to individual SDGs. This general critique is to some extent also true of the specific environmental SDGs where we see little cross-referencing to international environmental law that could provide a more solid legal base for the enforcement of the SDGs – which are legally non-binding. It is, however, possible to read in implicit references to a number of international environmental law instruments when analysing the wording of the Targets which underpin the individual environmental SDGs. In this chapter the legal nature of the SDGs, the fragmentation of the environment and the potential role of binding international law in solidifying the legal nature of the 2030 Agenda will be discussed in order to answer the question we pose in the title: the environment and the SDGs – are we on a road to nowhere?

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Karen Morrow

This chapter considers key factors shaping the pursuit of gender equality and women’s empowerment under the SDGs. In so doing, it examines some of the most significant concerns that may militate against the goals achieving these ends. These include the legacy of the Millennium Development Goals regime and in particular the limitations that have become apparent during its operation in progressing societal change through the goals, targets and indicators-oriented approach pioneered therein and pursued in the successor SDGs regime. The chapter also discusses the tensions inherent in the adoption of a discrete gender goal on the one hand and integration of gender under other goals on the other. The principal advantage of a discrete gender goal lies in according ‘headline’ status to the issue; integration in other goals, however, offers the potential to ‘mainstream’ gender coverage in key substantive areas. The concomitant disadvantages of these approaches are potentially ‘siloing’ gender issues and dilution of focus respectively. The use of indicators and their limitations, particularly in light of current levels of information and communications technology and data challenges are interrogated. The chapter concludes by examining the implications of the international community’s broader evasion of the interface between goals regimes and the global human rights agenda for gender issues. Discussion centres around the fact that, as gender concerns now enjoy strong coverage in human rights law, along with the legal status that this invokes, divorcing the SDGs regime from such protection stands to act to the particular disadvantage of women, negating a key route to securing accountability for the impacts of state action/inaction on the ground.

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Helmut Philipp Aust and Anél du Plessis

Goal 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) sets out to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable by 2030. Together with the New Urban Agenda adopted at the Habitat III conference in Quito in 2016, SDG 11 is the latest emanation of the thickening layer of international normative guidance on questions of sustainable development and urban governance. This chapter argues that Goal 11 of the SDGs is a clear expression of the urban turn, as it were, in global governance. The contribution contextualizes the setting in which SDG 11 is inserted as well as the aspirations of Goal 11. The chapter also unearths the inherent contradictions of SDG 11 since not all of its sub-goals will be attainable at the same time and without negatively impacting on some of the other SDGs. For instance, the notions of ‘safety’ and ‘inclusiveness’ might well conflict with each other. The chapter concludes with a critical view on some of the general implementation risks and challenges associated with SDG 11.

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Nadia Sánchez Castillo-Winckels

This chapter explores public participation in the governance of marine areas beyond national jurisdiction, also known as ocean global commons or ocean commons. In particular, the role of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is examined in enhancing public access to information and participation in institutions managing these resources: regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) and the International Seabed Authority (ISA). The argument is that the SDGs contribute to developing a new conception of ocean commons governance by emphasizing civil society participation in achieving sustainable development. This argument is based on two reasons. First, the SDGs encourage institutions at all levels to strengthen public access to information and participation in decision making in order to increase transparency, accountability and effectiveness of their administration. Second, the study of public participation in RFMOs and the ISA shows that the existing conception of ocean commons governance primarily involves states and industry organizations and restricts access to civil society. The chapter concludes that the SDGs promote a new understanding of ocean commons governance in which public participation is integral to the governing process and necessary to ensure institutional transparency, accountability and effectiveness for sustainable development.

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Owen McIntyre

While legal frameworks will inevitably play a central role in shaping the actions necessary for realisation of SDG 6, which commits the international community to ensuring universal availability of adequate water and sanitation services and sustainable management of the water resources on which such services depend, it is equally clear that the values set out in SDG 6 will significantly influence the continuing evolution, development and implementation of relevant legal measures and approaches. In order to illustrate this close, two-way inter-relationship, this chapter explores the mutually supportive approaches embodied in international water and human rights law and in SDG 6. The former fields of normativity have already developed rules and principles intended to promote broad rights to water and sanitation and to require environmental protection of shared international water resources and the ecosystems dependent thereon. However, articulation and formal adoption of SDG 6 represents formal universal political commitment to such values, which can only serve to legitimise and inform such norms.