Sustainable Development in International Law

Authored by: Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger

Routledge Handbook of International Law

Print publication date:  December  2008
Online publication date:  January  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415418768
eBook ISBN: 9780203884621
Adobe ISBN: 9781134113095


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Of the 192 states that exist today, a vast majority are considered “developing countries”. The definition of development, however, remains unclear both in fact and in law. Many economic development decisions have significant environmental and social impacts, and the notion of “sustainable development” has gained currency in international legal debates over recent decades. However, when states commit “to promote sustainable development” in a treaty, or agree to conduct their relations in accordance with a “principle of sustainable development”, the implications of this commitment are not always clear. In this chapter, the origins of sustainable development as a concept are reviewed. The status of sustainable development in international law is then discussed. While it may not yet be generally accepted as a customary principle, it is clearly agreed as a policy objective in many treaties, supported by other principles. And further, sustainable development, as an objective of international law, can and does serve to reconcile interstitial tensions between economic growth, social development and environmental protection in the interest of a common future.

We assume a collective responsibility to advance and strengthen the interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars of sustainable development – economic development, social development and environmental protection – at the local, national, regional and global levels

(Johannesburg Declaration, World Summit for Sustainable Development 2002)

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