Environmental Principles and Environmental Justice


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Abstract: This article offers an analysis of the compatibility between the emerging concept ofcnvironmcntal justice and a number of more well established environmental principles. These include the precautionary principle, the polluter pays principle and sustainable development. The article argues that, for all three principles, a comparison with environmental justice gives rise to conflicts as well as conformity. The main reason for this Ls the ambiguity and inconsistency of environmental justice and the three principles.


One characteristic of environmental law and policy is the central role that so-called environmental principles play in the shaping of decisions, formulation of policies and governance in general. These principles are often hard to define and their application frequently varies. Such principles include the precautionary principle, the principle of prevention, the polluter pays principle and sustainable development. These principles form part of both international and domestic environmental law and policy, albeit to varying degrees. For instance, some argue for a right to sustainable development and others assert that the principles of prevention and precaution form part of customary international law. Taken together, these principles have, over the last 30 years, become an essential part of the envi-ronmental lawyer's vocabulary. More recently, the concept of environmental justice has emerged as a basis for questioning established norms of environmental law and policy in general and, in some instances, the environmental principles in particular.

This paper aims to analyse the congruence between the well-established environmental law principles of precaution, prevention, polluter pays and sustainable development, and environmental justice. While much can be said (and much has been said) about the principles, the aim of this paper is not to provide a fully fledged analysis of the principles. Instead, this paper aims to start a debate on the role of environmental justice as a concept and its compatibility with the more well-established norms of environmental policy and law. The reason for this is two-fold. First, in light of the emergence of environmental justice as a concept in the UK and Europe, it is important to attempt to define the boundaries and meaning of the concept. Secondly, while environmental justice and its emphasis on fair distribution and processes on the face of it seems benign, it is important to subject the concept to critical scrutiny, given the possible implications of its claims of injustice. An additional point is that, given the pervasiveness of the well-established environmental principles, it equally becomes relevant to question these principles in the name of justice in an attempt to further debate about their longevity.

The outline of the paper is as follows. A brief introduction to the concept of environmental justice is provided in Part 2. In Part 3, the paper analyses the relationship between environmental justice and the precautionaiy principle. This is followed by an analysis of the compatibility between the principle of prevention and environmental justice in Part 4. In Part 5, similarities and differences between the polluter pays principle and environmental justice are considered. Part 6 assesses the relationship between sustainable development and environmental justice.

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