Volume 19/1

The world celebrated in 2022 the fiftieth anniversary of the Stockholm Conference, often considered as the birthplace of international environmental law. The early 1970s corresponded more broadly with the rapid development of environmental law throughout the world. It is appropriate at this juncture to reflect on the successes and limits of developments over the past five decades.

This anniversary also took place under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. This still ongoing health crisis can help us address environmental challenges in the 2020s. While the pandemic-induced recessions did not lead to the greener future that was often foretold in 2020, various lessons can be drawn for the future. Over the past three years, governments around the world have shown an impressive willingness to take stringent measures and commit substantial public funds to address this public health crisis.

This can be contrasted with the response to environmental planetary crises. The cases of global warming, mass biodiversity extinction and land degradation are a few of the global environmental emergencies that have been well documented. Natural sciences whose data remains the prevailing basis for environmental law making have amply demonstrated the extraordinary gravity of the many crises that we are facing. This is the case even for such complex problems as climate change where a lot of long-term impacts cannot be predicted with absolute certainty. Despite this, the IPCC has published increasingly specific reports that provide much greater risks and certainty than what the world knew about the coronavirus when government’s imposed stringent measures to address the public health risk.

Reflecting on the fiftieth anniversary of Stockholm, the converging crises of the present moment require us to think around a number of broad themes:

  • Critical reflections on environmental law from the point of view of planetary health in the context of the fiftieth anniversary of the Stockholm Conference;
  • Decolonization and the environment, in its multiple forms and dimensions from the local to the global level;
  • Critical perspectives on environmental justice and equity, in particular from the point of view of the global South and/or from a gender, social/racial equity point of view;
  • Rethinking the bases for environmental law beyond the existing framing that has led to the current crises, such as paradigms going beyond sustainable development (including degrowth, radical ecological democracy);
  • Critical reflections on evolving environmental governance and institutional developments;
  • Critical reflections on public health and the environment.

Reflecting on these themes is crucial to think around the future of environmental law, which must evolve to be able to respond to evolving challenges, from the most local level dimensions to global threats.

Patricia Kameri-Mbote, Balakrishna Pisupati, Aphrodite Smagadi, Allan Meso, Hyun Sung, Alvin Gachie

United Nations Environment Programme: The Role of Environmental Law and Governance in Transformational Change to Address the Triple Planetary Crisis

The year 2022 was a landmark in global environmental governance, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm from 5 to 16 June 1972. Also known as the Stockholm Conference, it was the first world conference to address the issue of the environment. A hallmark of the Stockholm Conference was the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda, promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system and serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment.

Yet as the global community celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of UNEP and commemorated Stockholm+50, we are still confronted with ample evidence that we are putting extreme pressures on the planet. The pressures have contributed to three interconnected planetary crises facing humanity today, namely the climate crisis, the biodiversity and nature loss crisis and the pollution crisis. These crises, driven by decades of relentless and unsustainable consumption and production, are amplifying deep inequalities, and threatening our collective future…

Gideon Fosoh Ngwome

Soil Security Concerns in the Era of Climate Change: An Assessment of African Union’s Legal Framework for Sustainable Soil Management and Implications for Combating Climate Change in Africa

This paper makes a reflection on the nexus between soil and climate change, with a focus on how the latter has triggered a renewed concern about soil not only as a source of carbon emission, but more importantly, as a natural solution for combating climate change. The paper employs the content analysis and doctrinal methods to investigate the level of attention given to soil security and sustainable soil management (SSM) by relevant African Union (AU) legal instruments and the consequential climate change ramifications. The investigation and analysis reveal that the AU’s legal landscape for SSM and soil security is inadequate and in consequence, limits Member countries from leveraging on soil as a natural and cost-effective solution to combat climate change. Based on the insufficiencies, the paper makes some recommendations, the key one being the need for the AU to give soil a special legal attention by way of a specific and comprehensive African soil charter that does not only promote SSM, but also underscores the centrality of soil as a natural and cost-effective climate change solution.

John W. Head

Reflections on Stockholm, Decolonization, Restoration, and Global Ecological Governance

Although international environmental law has progressed in the 50 years since the Stockholm Conference, it suffers today from several structural deficiencies. These include anthropocentrism, conceptual shallowness, and global institutional timidity. Remedies for these deficiencies would involve (i) “species decolonization”, (ii) a reconceptualization from “sustainable development” to a more aggressive “process-relational restoration”, and (iii) a radical re-imagining of environmental governance regimes, involving something like “eco-states” and a new global institution to implement bold legal and structural reforms in ecological governance.