Research projects in the Environmental Law and Sustainability Research Group

Below are the research projects conducted by members of the Environmental Law and Sustainability Research Group. The projects are listed under the Research Group's respective key research theme. 

Biodiversity and nature protection law

Biodiversity litigation (2019-2021)

This project seeks to understand the relationship between international biodiversity law and biodiversity litigation. It aims to:

  • understand the evolution and dynamic of biodiversity litigation in different contexts (national, regional and international)
  • assess the role of international biodiversity law with regard to biodiversity litigation
  • evaluate the contribution of biodiversity litigation to the effectiveness of biodiversity law.

Professor Jona Razzaque is undertaking this project in collaboration with Sandrine Maljean Dubois (CNRS, France) and Guillaume Futhazar (Max Planck Institute, Germany). Find out more about the Biodiversity Litigation project.

Global assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services (2016-2019)

Professor Jona Razzaque acted as the Coordinating Lead Author of the Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services of the United Nations Inter-governmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES, 2016-2019). Funded by the IPBES, this landmark report provides a comprehensive picture of the relationship between economic development pathways and their impacts on nature, presents a wide range of policy responses to promote transformative change, and contributes to the post-2030 Agenda of the United Nations for biodiversity governance.

As a Lead Author of the assessment, Razzaque examined the challenges and opportunities for decision-makers at all levels including relevant United Nations Agencies and national governments. The Summary for Policy Makers and Chapter 6: Options for Decision-makers are available from the IPBES website.

Recent publication includes:
Sandra Díaz et al, Pervasive human-driven decline of life on Earth points to the need for transformative change. Science, 13 Dec 2019: Vol 366, Issue 6471, eaax3100. DOI: 10.1126/science.aax3100.

J Razzaque, I Visseren-Hamakers et al, Chapter 6: Options for decision-makers in the global assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the intergovernmental science-policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services (May 2019).

Biodiversity and nature protection law (2016-17)

The purpose of this project is to provide a critical assessment of international biodiversity law in the face of the failed attempts to reduce the global trend in irreversible biodiversity loss and the need to increase efforts, including through indirect drivers of change such as institutions, governance and legal frameworks. This project is a collaboration between Professor Jona Razzaque and Professor Elisa Morgera (University of Strathclyde). The findings for this research project Biodiversity and Nature Protection Law is published by Edward Elgar Publishing. 

Environment and human rights

Environmental rights in human rights courts

There is a growing recognition that protection of the environment is necessary in order to protect a wide range of human rights, including the right to life, the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. At the same time, recognition of a specific right to a healthy or sustainable environment is increasing at national level, in national constitutions and in internationally, in regional human rights treaties. As a consequence, human rights courts are increasingly being called upon to adjudicate environmental rights claims. The following publications explore a number of questions surrounding the growing environmental rights jurisprudence:

Public participation in environmental decision making

Since the 1992 Rio Declaration, several environmental agreements emphasise participatory rights and the need to include communities in the environmental decision-making processes. Time and again, a lack of community engagement along with weak information and consultation procedure that disregard the voice of the affected communities have resulted in unsustainable resource management. This project examines examples from developed and developing countries and shows the need for increased participation of non-state actors, joint management of shared natural resources and stronger obligations of government agencies to involve communities in natural resource decisions. Related publications include:

Environmental rights and the development of standards (2017-19)

Environmental rights, also known as the human rights or constitutional rights that are used for the protection of the environment, have proliferated over the last 45 years. However, the precise levels of protection that they represent has since been a major question associated with this phenomenon. This research project on environmental rights systematically investigates this question by analysing the emerging standards of environmental protection that are associated with such rights and the way that those associations are becoming formalised. Professor Jona Razzaque collaborated with Stephen J Turner (University of Lincoln, UK), Dinah L Shelton (George Washington University, Washington DC, USA), Owen McIntyre (University College Cork, Ireland) and James R May (Widener University School of Law, Delaware, USA). 

Environmental justice and the global south

Environmental human rights and the global south

Global environmental degradation caused by unsustainable economic activity and consumerism has the most serious impact on the lives and livelihoods of those least able to withstand or adapt to its effects. Many of the communities most adversely affected by global environmental problems such as climate change, air and water pollution and biodiversity loss live in the Global South. The demands of the growing environmental justice movement in the Global South is often framed in the language of human rights. This is explored in the following publications:

International environmental law and the global south (2013-2015)

The International Environmental Law and Global South project examines both the historical origins of the North-South divide in European colonialism as well as its contemporary manifestations in a range of issues including food justice, energy justice, indigenous rights, trade, investment, extractive industries, human rights, land grabs, hazardous waste, and climate change. Born out of the recognition that global inequality and profligate consumerism present threats to a sustainable planet, this project makes a unique contribution to international environmental law by emphasising the priorities and perspectives of the global South. Professor Jona Razzaque collaborated with Carmen Gonzalez (Seattle University, USA), Sumudu Atapattu (University of Wisconsin, USA) and Professor Shawkat Alam (Macquarie University, Australia).  

Coloniality and the global order (ongoing 2016-)

This research project sits at the intersection between public and private international law, and revolves around coloniality, post-capitalism, regulation of transnational corporations.

It is centered around issues of distributive, social and environmental justice in the context of access to natural resources, the colonial roots of and alternatives to the current and  pernicious version of neoliberal globalisation, and the multiple but ultimately linked trajectories of privilege and exclusion that led to the current environmental, economic and social crises. The transnational corporate actor, as the epitome of the neoliberal global techno-capitalist order and its ability to transcend regulatory control, is central to this research.

Works and projects under this research stream include:

Transnational corporations, access to justice and the global south

This research stream focusses on environmental justice and access to remedies in the context of litigation against transnational companies for damage suffered in the Global South.

Publications include:

Forest conservation and the global south

In the context of sustainable development, both developed and developing countries are implementing policies that encourage economic growth, environmental protection and social well-being in natural resource decisions. This project argues for a more realistic and equitable approach to payment for ecosystem services in the Global South. The focus of the project is on the strengthening participatory tools, third-party monitoring and environmental stewardship to improve the multiple forest ecosystem services. Related research publications include:

Environmental protection, security and armed conflict

There are various challenges related to environmental protection, security and armed conflict – from natural resources fuelling armed conflict, climate change impacts posing new challenges to international peace and security to the role of new actors in armed conflict and the regulation of their actions in environmental protection during armed conflict. As damage to the environment done in times of conflict can be irreversible, the restoration of peace may represent a greater challenge if the supporting physical environment has been seriously impaired. Related publications exploring these issues are as follows:

Natural resources and international economic law

Natural resources law, investment and sustainability (2016-2017)

This Natural Resources Law, Investment and Sustainability research project examines the relationship between the institutions that govern foreign investment, sustainable development and the rules and regulations that administer natural resources. Within the context of this project, several leading experts explored different perspectives in how investment and natural resources come together to achieve sustainable development in developing countries with examples from water, oil and gas, renewable energy, mineral, agriculture, and carbon trading. This project explored how countries prioritise their policy objectives to achieve their notion of sustainable natural resource use, which is strongly influenced by power imbalances that inform North–South cooperation, as well as South–South cooperation in the international investment regime. Professor Jona Razzaque collaborated with Professor Shawkat Alam (Macquarie University, Australia) and Jahid Hossain Bhuiyan (Northern University, Bangladesh). 

Elena Blanco contributed to this project with a chapter on state owned oil companies (SOCs) examining MNCs’ relationship with home and host states in the course of resource extraction. It begins by looking at the early extractive imperial companies from a North–South perspective and tries to contextualize the lasting legacy of colonial plunder as resource extraction politics evolved through the decolonisation period first and the advent of globalization later, until the emergence and growth of South–South investment in the postcolonial world. 

Economic instruments for resource governance and environmental protection

Elena Blanco and Professor Jona Razzaque worked together in a variety of projects establishing the link between the processes of globalisation, the institutions of international economic law and natural resource governance. From this collaboration, a variety of publications emerged, including:

The authors are now working on a new and expanded edition of Globalisation and Natural Resources Law, under contract with Edward Elgar (2021) which will consider the substantial evolution of the field in the last decade. The new edition will contain new chapters on investment law and natural resources, corporate responsibility, supply chain due diligence, corporate tax evasion, transparency initiatives in extractive sectors, and the opportunities and perils on the transition to renewable energy driven by the climate emergency.

Sustainable development, resilience and the future

Land grabbing, sustainable development and human rights

The term land grabbing refers to investment by global corporations and investors from wealthy developed nations in agricultural land in less developed countries. Such land deals are usually negotiated between host governments and foreign investors without participation of local communities who depend on the land for their livelihoods. There is growing evidence that the implementation of such agreements often has serious detrimental impacts on the environment and negative effects on a range of human rights, including rights to land, food and water. The project explores the possibility of an integrated human rights and sustainable development approach as a holistic framework for assessing the impact of land grabbing and for the development of policy and regulatory responses. For more information, see E Grant and O Das, Land Grabbing, Sustainable Development and Human Rights (2015) 4 Transnational Environmental Law 289-317.

Postcapitalism, commons thinking and environmental resilience (2018-2020)

Research under this umbrella covers tracing the roots of the current environmental crisis and questioning the models of development that have led to it. Commons thinking, circular economy and community-based solutions for environmental resilience inform the activities taking place under it.

Elena Blanco has been working on projects on ‘Commons Thinking’ from 2018, including a roundtable international commons writer and activist David Bollier, keynote speaker for The Future of the Commons, and taking part in the two day international workshop on 'Toward a New Onto-shift Commons’ funded by the Open Society with Anna Grear and David Bollier.

Elena Blanco is also part of the international network Repair Acts. Repair Acts is an international and multidisciplinary network of people working on topics relating to repair, care and maintenance cultures. The network questions the lexicon of the ‘smart’ and globally connected, repair, care and maintenance cultures addresses everyday consumption by revealing the geopolitical struggles, labour systems and consequences of our material lives on the environment and other species. The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) UK, under the Network grant scheme and led by artist and Professor of City Futures, Teresa Dillon (Principal Investigator) from the School of Art and Design at UWE Bristol, and Associate Professor of Cultural Geography, Caitling DeSilvey ,from the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter.

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