1. Research field
The increasing recognition of the negative social and environmental side effects of different types of current economic ‘development’ has led to sustainability concerns, related to climate change and persisting poverty/inequality, putting it very high on the international policy agenda. With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals for the 2016-2030 period (‘the 2030 Agenda’) and the growing attention for the impact of climate change, the focus on ‘sustainable development’ will further grow in importance in the coming decades. The University of Antwerp has identified Ecology and Sustainable Development as a key research domain.
Sustainable development has three dimensions: an economic (‘prosperity’), a social (‘people’) and an environmental (‘planet’) one (the 2030 Agenda adds two more: peace and partnership). In theory, the three dimensions are equally important, but the environmental dimension is the most contested (in international politics). The concept of sustainable development is rooted in the realization that unchecked economic development leads to irreversible environmental destruction and undesirable inequality and social exclusion.
Our aim is to fully develop a social science dimension to the Ecology and Sustainable Development key research domain, by way of a law in context approach.
On the one hand, international sustainable development law deals with the legal aspects of sustainable development. While rooted in international environmental law, it cuts across public and private law, and across international and domestic law, and engages with other disciplines such as economics, political sciences, international relations, environmental sciences and development studies.
On the other hand, actor-oriented development studies focus on how the power-laden interplay between multiple local and supra-local stakeholders and multi-scalar institutional processes produces rules, and in particular ‘rules-in-use’, actually governing access to resources and mediating rights and opportunities for different social groups, in particular in the so-called Global South.
International Sustainable Development Law and actor-oriented Development Studies thereby constitute a promising interdisciplinary partnership for a study of sustainable development and environmental justice.
2. Proposed research areas in the context of the groups’ research lines
The Law and Development research group at the Faculty of Law studies whether and how law can enhance human dignity and global justice, in particular for those adversely affected by economic and other forms of globalization. This question is addressed through the prism of both structural inequality between states in North and South (‘developed’ versus ‘developing’ states), and within states.
There are currently three research lines.
- In the research line ‘Human Rights: a Common Responsibility’, we seek to reconceptualise international human rights law (through notions of transnational human rights obligations and the right to development), in order to ensure that it can act effectively as a corrective to abuses of power and failures by a variety of actors that exercise power.
- In the research line ‘Localising Human Rights’, we test the effectiveness of human rights in offering protection against threats to human dignity, particularly in a non-Western context, and in situations affected by globalisation.
- In the research line ‘Law and Sustainable Development’, we scrutinize to what extent law can offer social and ecological justice in the context of a globalizing economy.
So far, the Law and Development Research Group has mainly focused on human rights and social justice, a research field that is meanwhile strongly consolidated within the group. We now seek to expand the research line on ‘Law and Sustainable Development’ and strengthen our focus on environmental law and ecological justice. This will allow us to consolidate the Research Group’s position within the faculty and the university, and to continue to play a leading role in European and global scholarship on law and development.
The research line ‘Environment and Sustainable Development’ at the Institute of Development Policy analyses the configuration of actors, processes and policies involved in tackling climate change and the kind of socio-political dynamics and interactions they trigger at and between multiple levels.
- At the global level it analyses the main trends, actors and factors in the evolving and evermore complex environment and climate governance landscape.
- At the national level it analyses the dynamics of the policy cycle (identification, formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation) surrounding the translation of global commitments into national policies.
- At the local level it analyses the (non )implementation of the environmental/climate change agenda and how it interrelates with local dynamics and struggles of (unequal) access to natural resources.
3. Research areas that may be developed (inter alia)
- Critical analysis of the genesis and content of relevant (inter)national sustainable development law;
- The synergy and tensions between human rights (inclusive or social development) and ecological protection, e.g. ‘green grabbing’, ‘commodification of nature’ );
- Legal techniques for balancing environmental, economic and social concerns;
- Study of on-the-ground processes of (non) implementation of (inter)national climate and environmental law :
- role and effects of international sustainable development law in selected countries of the Global South i.e. localising international sustainable development law in emerging economies (in particular in countries of the Global South with which partnerships exist, i.e. DR Congo, India, Nicaragua/Central America, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda,) , with a focus on the justice, legitimacy and effectiveness of international environmental law as well as its reach in offering protection to communities adversely affected by global environmental issues, and using the localising methodology developed in the area of human rights and or legal pluralism approaches;
- The interaction between public international law, various levels of regulation (global/regional/domestic/local) and a variety of actors (international organisations/domestic States/third States/ civil society actors) that determine success or failure of efforts to prevent and repair environmental harm.