This course examines how environmental law is structured and implemented in common law, civil law, socialist law, Islamic law and customary law traditions in both developed and developing nations in Asia and the world. The course evaluates how these different legal traditions implement the obligations accepted by States in multilateral environmental agreements, and also how federalism within States, and the regional economic/environmental integration/ harmonization measures among States, as in the European Union, ASEAN or the NAFTA Commission on Environmental Cooperation, influence the application of environmental law within a nation. In previous years, this course was taught via video-conferencing with Prof Nicholas Robinson, Gilbert & Sarah Kerlin Professor of Environmental Law, Pace University School of Law, and his students. Pace Law School is consistently ranked among the top 3 universities for environmental law in the USA. However, this linkup is not possible this year because the video-conferencing room at Pace is undergoing renovations. Thus this class will be conducted solely in NUS by Professors Lye Lin Heng and Koh Kheng Lian.
Comparative Environmental Law is not a branch of law, but rather a methodology. It teaches methods for understanding and applying the law of different jurisdictions. A lawyer can compare how two or more countries' legal systems treat the same, or similar elements of human conduct. Additionally, as Earth’s natural systems are integrated throughout the biosphere, the effectiveness of one nation’s environmental laws are complemented or undermined by the efficacy of another nation’s comparable laws.
The main objective is to examine the extent to which each country/system achieves
sustainable development as no one suit fits all. But there are models or lessons to be
It is important for environmental lawyers to understand the distinct legal systems of each nation in Asia, Europe, N America and the rest of world. More so with globalization, there is a need to develop comparative legal skills as a lawyer/advocate must be equipped to understand the needs of his client across boundaries. Also, many environmental impacts are transboundary in effect, or affect shared resources such as the oceans or atmosphere.
General Comparative Law also brings the lawyer into touch with Roman Law roots shared by the Common Law and Civil Law traditions, and points to those roots which diverge in contemporary practice. It acquaints the lawyer with how Asian traditions have evolved and been influenced mainly by their colonial past or by other western systems. For example, it orientates the lawyer to socialist law traditions, still in use in China and Viet Nam. This field facilitates the understanding of the influence of Buddhism (prevalent religion in Thailand and the Indochinese countries) or Islamic Law where the Holy Qu’ran may guide environmental law. It even draws the environmental lawyer into the unwritten customary law of indigenous people.
How can a lawyer find this law? How does she or he interpret it? What can you learn from another nation’s laws that make you better understand how to solve the same sort of problems that you encounter in your own country? The evolving concept of sustainable development calls for an exchange of experiences. Comparative Environmental Law provides some techniques to assist you answer these questions. Teaching Comparative Law is a venerable tradition in Law Schools. See Roscoe Pound, “The Place of Comparative Law in the AmericanLawSchool Curriculum,” 8 Tulane Law Review 161 (1934). Although there are some skeptics of the general discipline of comparative law, in the context of environmental law there is no denying of its usefulness.
As every nation is rapidly elaborating its systems of Environmental Law, the techniques of Comparative Law are exceptionally useful in the context ofAsia (and other parts of the world) and useful lessons can be drawn. Indeed, one country/city may be able to provide a model for another country/city to emulate. The recent Singapore - China cooperation on “eco-city” project in Tianjin Binhai New Area economic zone, China, demonstrates that Singapore’s success is being replicated (The Straits Times,19 Nov 2007: “S’pore- China ties hit new heights with eco-city pact; Framework Agreement on the Development of an Eco-city in the PRC” -
). We will thus study Singapore’s system of environmental management, law and policy as a possible model for an urban environment.
Earth’s natural systems are integrated throughout the Biosphere, and the effectiveness of one nation’s environmental statutes is complemented or undermined by the efficacy of another nation’s comparable enactments. MEAs (Multilateral Environmental Agreements), such as the UN Convention on Biodiversity, the UN Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Part XII on The Environment), increasingly set forth common obligations for different nations, but it is the regional or subregional laws as well as national laws - linked to the framework treaties - that must do the real work to govern human conduct consistently. Only such laws can restore the stratospheric ozone layer, protect migratory species, maintain the environmental systems or abate acid rain.
States have come to recognize the importance of Environmental Law at the national level. Agenda21, the blueprint for action adopted in 1992 at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, or the “Earth Summit”) in Rio de Janeiro, assigns a priority to national law- making in Chapter 8. The various chapters of Agenda 21 are a guide to what nations need to do in order to better harmonize their conduct to ensure that socio-economic development is environmentally sustainable. The 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) Plan of Implementation reaffirms the implementation of Agenda 21. Comparative Environmental Law lets us understand how Environmental Law will provide the harmonized means toward sustainability.
Comparative Environmental Law techniques include the development of skills in using the emerging systems of law available on the Internet. The Course requires substantial use of the Internet, for accessing readings in the course, and for finding laws and analysis and related information about a given State on the Internet. Internet training will be a part of this seminar.