Published date01 April 2016
Date01 April 2016
AuthorHarro Asselt
The year 2015 will likely go down in history as the year
in which the international community showed that multi-
lateral environmental cooperation can still lead to
concrete results. The most eye-catching outcomes were
undoubtedly the adoption of the Paris Agreement on
climate change (which will be discussed in detail in the
following issue of RECIEL) in December 2015, as well
as the agreement on the post-2015 sustainable develop-
ment agenda, which includes a set of 17 Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs) in September. In addition,
agreement was reached on the Sendai Framework for
Disaster Risk Reduction (20152030) in March, and
the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, resulting from the
Financing for Development conference in July.
Clearly, the agreements reached in 2015 will merely be
paper tigers if they are not accompanied by laws, poli-
cies and other actions by governments and nongovern-
mental actors to achieve the goals and objectives laid
down in them. Moreover, the new agreements will not
operate in a vacuum, and will need to be embedded in
the existing and ever-changing system of international
environmental governance. These issues are at the heart
of the contributions to this issue of RECIEL, which
focuses on the post-2015 sustainable development
agenda adopted last year and its relationship to the
broader corpus of international environmental law.
The issue starts with an analysis by Pamela Chasek and
colleagues on the negotiation process leading up to the
agreement in August 2015. As close observers of the
negotiations, Chasek et al. are well placed to highlight
the differences between the consultations that led to the
formulation of the SDGs and the negotiations leading to
the post-2015 development agenda in a broader sense.
Whereas the SDGs were the result of an open-ended
process involving a wide array of stakeholders, the f‌inal
part of the negotiations on the post-2015 development
agenda took place in the form of traditional intergov-
ernmental bargaining. The authors further show that it
was crucial for the negotiations to tackle two challenges
characterizing international environmental coopera-
tion, namely universal participation and disagreement
over the interpretation of common but differentiated
responsibilities (CBDR). Chasek et al. draw attention to
how the Open Working Group on the SDGs was estab-
lished in a way that kept the number of States at the
table manageable while at the same time ensuring that
no State felt excluded, thus overcoming one of the com-
mon obstacles to consensus. While questions related to
CBDR were also resolved for the time being, the authors
note that these questions will likely re-emerge in the
implementation phase.
The second article, by Rakhyun Kim, offers an in-depth
discussion of the relationship between the SDGs and
international (environmental) law. Kim argues that the
SDGs are a subset of the international commitments
taken on by governments, and are grounded in these
existing commitments. He next explores how the SDGs
could help international organizations and other bodies
to orchestrateaction in relation to a particular goal or
set of goals, concluding that this potential is limited as
the SDGs are hindered by the absence of a unifying,
long-term vision for the period beyond 2030. Kim
suggests that international law offers some means to
reconcile competing objectives, but he concludes that a
long-term vision in which the boundaries of the Earths
life-support systems are respected would be needed to
realize the full potential of the SDGs.
The relationship between the SDGs and international
environmental law is also discussed in the next contri-
bution by Birgit Lode, Phillip Sch
onberger and Patrick
Toussaint. Lode and colleagues examine the SDGs in
light of international law on air pollution. They start by
examining how air pollution features as a cross-cutting
issue in the SDGs, and explore how air quality-related
indicators are emerging in the ongoing development of
global indicators for the SDGs. They next discuss how
air pollution is addressed by international law, paying
attention to the ongoing work in the International Law
Commission to identify rules and principles applicable
to the protection of the atmosphere, relevant principles
of international environmental law and specif‌ic regional
treaties on air pollution. Lode and colleagues present an
optimistic perspective, suggesting that the SDGs com-
plement the existing international legal framework by
expanding the scope of protection, by offering a soft law
instrument to complement existing hard law and by
providing for a proactive rather than a reactive response
to the problem of air pollution.
The next contribution by Otto Spijkers also examines
the SDGs in light of existing international law, focusing
in this case on international water law. Spijkers argues
that the SDGs can facilitate the further greeningof
international water law, drawing particular attention to
(i) an evolving interpretation of the principle of equi-
table and reasonable utilization of shared watercourses,
the no-harm rule and the duty of cooperation; (ii) the
ecosystems approach; and (iii) enhanced public partici-
pation in decision making related to the utilization of
international watercourses.
The subsequent article, by Marcos Orellana, focuses on
the cross-cutting issue of governance. For Orellana, it is
ª2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
RECIEL 25 (1) 2016. ISSN 2050-0386 DOI: 10.1111/reel.12156
Review of European Community & International Environmental Law

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