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Rio Conference Favors Economic Development Over Environmental Justice, International Law Experts Say

June 29, 2012

Speaking at Vermont Law School where they recently spent two weeks at the Environmental Law Center's Summer Session, two of the world's most renowned international environmental law experts expressed their disappointment with the recent the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

(Left to right) Professors Stephanie Farrior, Dinah Shelton and Edith Brown Weiss

(Left to right) Professors Stephanie Farrior, Dinah Shelton and Edith Brown Weiss

Georgetown Law Professor Edith Brown Weiss and George Washington Law Professor Dinah Shelton said the summit's 283-paragraph agreement focuses on economic development and job creation without sufficient attention to environmental concerns, such as climate change, pollution and loss of habitat that result from unsustainable development.


Shelton, who has been at the forefront in developing a rights-based approach to international environmental law and was on campus to teach Human Rights and the Environment, said the conference's final document, called "The Future We Want," includes almost nothing on corporate responsibility, human rights, indigenous peoples or environmental justice.

Weiss, Vermont Law School's Distinguished International Environmental Law Scholar in Residence, contrasted the positive leadership role that national governments played at the historic Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 with their weak performance at Rio+20.

"It was a tremendous missed opportunity," Weiss said.

Notably, the summit reflected the growing capacity of grassroots organizations and state and local governments to take economic and environmental action without the approval of national governments, said Weiss and Shelton, whose visit to VLS was overseen by Professor Stephanie Farrior, VLS's director of International and Comparative Law Programs.

"The reaction to Rio (in terms of motivating and empowering NGOs and local governments) could be more important than the Rio summit itself," Shelton said.

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