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 5: Implementing Intergenerational Equity

Edith Brown Weiss


Edith Brown Weiss Introduction Climate change, the central environmental issue in this century, inherently raises significant problems of intergenerational equity. The actions we take today to address (or to ignore) climate change have enormous implications for the well-being of future generations. In 1988, Our Common Future (the Brundtland Report) brought long-term effects to the fore internationally by enunciating the concept of sustainable development. It has now become almost routine to refer in a general way to the effects of our actions on future generations. Climate change is the quintessential intergenerational problem. Within the last two decades, the principle of intergenerational equity, which underlies sustainable development, has become sufficiently well established that it is timely to revisit the theory and the extent to which the principle has become part of international law. It is appropriate to explore the implementation of intergenerational equity: in international and national courts, in new national executive and legislative institutions, and in national constitutions and legislation. In the context of climate change, the principle of intergenerational equity is essential to ensure that the interests of future generations and of those who may have no voice today are heard. This chapter addresses intergenerational equity related to the environment and natural resources and to cultural resources (see generally Brown Weiss, 1989, 1999 and 2002; Brown Weiss, 1993a: 332–53). The theory applies more broadly to issues such as debt, health care, and social structures. Problems of intergenerational equity As background, it is useful to summarize the different kinds of...

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