University of Hertfordshire

The Principle of Sustainable Development

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionary

  • Virginie Barral
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Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPrinciples of Environmental Law
EditorsLudwig Kramer, Emanuela Orlando
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018

Publication series

NameElgar Encyclopaedia on Environmental Law series


The rise of sustainable development as a central theme of modern international legal discourse has occurred over an extraordinarily compact period of twenty to thirty years at the end of the 20th century, and it is to this day undeniably dominating legal thinking in the fields of economic, social and environmental relations. Yet, the principle’s broad and evasive texture carries with it significant hesitation as to its meaning, contents and legal implications. Such hesitation is first manifest in the multiplicity of terms associated with the expression, sometimes as a principle, but often as a concept, an objective, a framework or even a discourse or paradigm. It is also apparent in the contrasting opinions relating to its definition and constitutive elements. Arguably however, the variability of the standards attached to sustainable development is a necessary consequence of the evolving nature of the principle and do not prohibit the identification of the inherent constitutive elements of the notion. In addition, sustainable development’s wide dissemination in international law is testimony to its legal nature. Sustainable development ultimately operates both as a principle of interpretation to assist the resolution of conflicts of norms or of interest in the judicial process, and as an objective that international subjects must strive to achieve.

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