The interplay between procedure and substance has not been a major point of contention for international environmental lawyers. Arguably, the topic’s low profile is due to the mostly uncontroversial nature of the field’s distinction between procedural and substantive obligations. Furthermore, the vast majority of environmental law scholars and practitioners have tended to welcome the procedural features of multilateral environmental agreements and their potential to promote regime evolution and effectiveness. However, recent developments have served to put the spotlight on certain aspects of the procedure substance topic. ICJ judgments revealed ambiguity on aspects of the customary law framework on transboundary harm prevention that the field had thought largely settled. In turn, in the treaty context, the Paris Agreement’s retreat from binding emissions targets and its decisive turn towards procedure reignited concerns in some quarters over the “proceduralization” of international environmental law. The two developments invite a closer look at the respective roles of, and the relationship between, procedure and substance in this field and, more specifically, in the context of harm prevention under customary and treaty law.

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Jutta Brunnée is University Professor and Metcalf Chair in Environmental Law at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. Her teaching and research interests are in the areas of public international law, international environmental law and inter-national legal theory. She was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2013, and Associate of the Institut de Droit International in 2017.
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