University of Hertfordshire

National Sovereignty over Natural Resources, Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Development

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


  • Virginie Barral
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Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearch Handbook on International Law and Natural Resources
EditorsElisa Morgera, Kati Kulovesi
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)978 1 78347 833 0
ISBN (Print)978 1 78347 832 3
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2016


Environmental interdependencies place undeniable pressures and challenges on the cardinal principle of state sovereignty and in particular on the principle of national sovereignty over natural resources. This chapter explores whether and how developments in the environmental field have constrained the traditional understanding of sovereignty and possibly changed its meaning. It does so firstly by analysing how the reorganisation of emerging rules and principles around the matrix of sustainable development may allow to move away from a purely conflictual relationship between national sovereignty and resource preservation towards one based on mutual interest. The chapter next reviews the impact of new and redefined legal categories such as common property, common heritage, common concern, or shared resources. It then offers a partial mapping of the widening environmental constraints on national sovereignty flowing from classic duties to protect the rights of others, the existence of an international interest in resource protection, and more innovative and challenging constraints even absent any immediate international interest in resource conservation. Ultimately, the analysis suggests that conceptually, locating national sovereignty and resource protection within the framework of sustainable development and its clear anthropocentric focus permits tensions to be defused and allows for the reconciliation of these two delicately balanced principles.


This is a draft chapter. The final version is available in Elisa Morgera, Kati Kulovesi, eds., Research Handbook on International Law and Natural Resources, published in 2016 by Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd., This material is for private use only, and cannot be used for any other purpose without further permission of the publisher.

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