Providing a voice to the upcoming generation facing the challenges of environmental law

by: in Law

Today it has become impossible for one single person to master the whole field of environmental law, given its complexity and dynamic developments. Indeed, with the increasing manifestation of environmental crisis, law, being a powerful tool to address polluting behaviour, has become utterly complex.

In order to address the enormous environmental challenges we face across the world, good knowledge and application of environmental law is of utmost importance. Law provides means to steer society to respect nature and, in this way, to protect the human right to a sound environment. However, critical reflection on how law is developed and used, and how this can be improved, is crucial. Indeed, it is no secret that law is also part of the problem, by not protecting the environment well enough. For trying to find solutions to environmental problems a variety of policy approaches should be considered. This includes the choice of regulatory instruments: should polluting behaviour be addressed with persuasive, economic and / or command and control measures? Other relevant questions are: To what extent can and should powerful economic actors be held responsible in case governmental interventions fall short? What sanctions and remedies should be applied? To what extent can courts intervene if governmental policies fall short?  Should we expect more from international law approaches, or is it more realistic and effective to work on bottom-up national law developments? Can governments take measures that have extraterritorial effects, having an impact on other countries?

Answering such questions and understanding the impacts on society and economy requires to move beyond a traditional law approach, and to engage into fundamental discussions regarding options to protect the environment effectively and efficiently. It is from this perspective that in the master Sustainability Science, Policy and Society students get trained in different disciplines relevant for addressing environmental problems, including the discipline of environmental law. The course Sustainability, Law and The Environment has certainly not the aim to educate students so that they are able to apply environmental law – that would be too complex and is hence done by specialized environmental lawyers. Instead, the core aim of the course is that students who want to become sustainability experts acquire knowledge and skills to be able to cooperate with environmental lawyers. It is from my own practical expertise, having worked as an environmental lawyer with a Ministry responsible for water management, that I have seen the challenges of being part of multidisciplinary teams, where different vocabulary and different values among participants easily cause misunderstandings and even tensions. By educating and training the upcoming sustainability experts in the basics of environmental law, it is to be hoped that cooperation in teams consisting of several disciplines will improve, ultimately resulting in better policies and laws to protect the environment.

Since it is clear that more needs to be done to protect, and even restore, our living environment,  students of the master Sustainability Science, Policy and Society start to critically reflect on the content of current law as soon as they get introduced to it. Indeed, students often become disappointed regarding the state of affairs of environmental law. Hence, these students are very much willing to discuss how changing the law can lead to more successful environmental protection, by identifying gaps and discussing how to improve the law. Moreover, in light of the traditional three-dimensional understanding of sustainability, issues of how to balance environmental protection with economic and social concerns of countries across the world are being discussed, thereby keeping strong focus on how to provide effective  protection to the planet.

It is in this effort that students of the master course Sustainability, law and the environment have developed, in teams of 2, blogs and vlogs to critically reflect on a specific environmental law topic. By the end of the academic year 2021-2022 a rich collection of blogs and vlogs was delivered, representing the views of the upcoming generation – the generation that will be part of making the efforts for the so much needed transition to a climate neutral society in this century, to mention only one of the intricate challenges. The six best blogs/vlogs were selected for publication. These student reflections range from the energy transition to the protection of the wolf, from the need of having transparent decision-making to establishing rights for nature, and from addressing excessive nitrogen emissions to combating plastic soup. We can only hope that in a few years from now the identified problems are better addressed than they are nowadays – and for addressing them well we need experts such as these students.

The voices and views of the upcoming generation are posted here: Sustainability, Law and the Environment Student Blogs - Sustainability, Law and the Environment Student Blogs - Maastricht University

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