Research Handbook on International Environmental Law
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Research Handbook on International Environmental Law

Edited by Malgosia Fitzmaurice, David M. Ong and Panos Merkouris

This wide-ranging and comprehensive Handbook examines recent developments in international environmental law (IEL) and the crossover effects of this expansion on other areas of international law, such as trade law and the law of the sea.
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Chapter 3: Sustainable Development

Duncan French


Duncan French 1. Introduction Sustainable development is one of those concepts that it is difficult not to agree with; who would not wish to guarantee environmental protection, while at the same time promoting social and economic development, particularly in some of the poorest regions of the world? It is little wonder that politicians, policy-makers and many academics alike have been so attracted to such an apparently simple juxtaposition, not just of words, but also of ideas. But lying behind the apparent simplicity of sustainable development are some very difficult, potentially even intractable, issues. Moreover, the inevitable interdisciplinary nature of sustainable development has ensured that these issues range across the entire disciplinary spectrum, involving questions relating to both the natural and social sciences. It is also of some note that legal research has often been at the vanguard of the discussion on sustainable development, not only considering its legal implications but, more broadly, helping to define the outer parameters of the concept itself; reflecting – perhaps – both the constitutive role that law can play in social phenomena and the increasingly reflective nature of legal study. The aim of this chapter is suitably modest; to introduce the reader to some of the principal arguments around sustainable development and to consider the legal implications of the concept. In particular, Section 2 considers the historical development of sustainable development and outlines some of the social, economic and political dimensions of the concept. It will note that though many criticisms have been put forward over the...

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