Online seminar: Using the law to save the planet

Legal options to address climate change and ecological destruction
Fostering inclusive prosperity
Friday 20 May 2022, 09:30 - 17:30
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Planet - Nasa

The last two IPCC Reports are a dramatic reminder that we are in the midst of an environmental crisis. It is imperative that all fields of law are reengineered as tools to save the planet. In this online seminar, academics from various disciplines will explore the questions whether, when and how different fields of law are (can be) mobilized to address ecological destruction.

These fields include most diverse legal areas such as competition law, human rights, criminal law, and tax law. A keynote address will be delivered by the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights. The goal is to get a multi-disciplinary discussion on the various ways in which the law and legal procedures can help us to address climate change and ecological destruction. 


09.30 – 09.45     Welcome and introduction by Alessandra Arcuri (EUR)

09.45 – 11.00     Session 1

  • Rob White & Frances Medlock – Ecocide & Social obligations
  • Francesca Leucci – Is environmental liability up for the challenge?
  • Candice Foot – The corporate responsibility to respect freshwater
  • Chair - Lieselot Bisschop

11.00 – 11.15     Break

11.15 – 12.50     Session 2

  • María Campo Comba - EU Competition Law and Sustainability: exploring an approach focused on the objectives of sustainability agreements
  • Seniha Irem Akin - Why Can`t Stakeholder Theory Save the Planet and What Can Corporate Law Do Instead?
  • Ilona van den Eijnde - To what extent can measures of fiscal nature standalone aid in preventing climate change in the EU by changing producer’s or consumer’s behaviour?
  • Arjen Schep, Anneke Monsma & Robert Kastelein - How taxes can contribute to the climate change policies of local governments
  • Chair - Alberto Quintavalla

12.50 – 14.00     Break

14.00 – 14.45     Keynote by Prof. Marcos Orellana (UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights & adjunct professor of International Environmental Law at George Washington University (DC, USA)) – The Unfinished Agenda of Stockholm 1972: A Rights Based Approach to International Environmental Law

14.45 – 15.00     Break

15.00 – 16.15     Session 3

  • Laura Burgers & Kinanya Pijl - Ownership and representation in a sustainable city
  • Yasin Yildirim & Rabia Üzümcü - Roles of Cross Border Agreements on Protecting the Environment in The Middle East: Case of The Abraham Accords
  • Fernando Palazzo - Amazon 451: an environmental Brazilian dystopia
  • Chair  - Liesbeth Enneking & Ellen Hey

16.15 – 16.30     Wrap up by Frank Weerman

Climate change and ecological destruction are amongst the most pressing societal issues of our time. The global climate has warmed up considerably during the last century, with an increasing pace in the last decades. Consequences of climate change can be experienced across the globe with melting icecaps and glaciers, rising sea levels which threaten coastal communities, and more extreme weather events. The dire state of the environment is also evident from the sixth extinction that is currently threatening the existence of one million species on earth. If the deforestation continues at its current pace, most forests will have disappeared in a century or two. Pollution of water, air and soil is at historically high levels. Plants, animals, people and entire ecosystems are endangered by these environmental issues.

To turn this tide, national and international government organisations, non-governmental organisations, companies and citizens have been developing policies and practices to increase awareness and enable a lifestyle and economy that preserves the environment. There have been various attempts at international level to come to agreements that aim to decrease carbon emissions and call unsustainable production and consumption patterns to a halt. Important landmarks were the 2012 Rio de Janeiro Summit on sustainability and the Paris Agreements of 2015, where the United Nations formulated various sustainable development goals to tackle climate change and ecological damage, as well as poverty and inequality. These efforts have in some cases resulted in meaningful actions and improvements in various countries over the world, but much more is still needed.

Beyond governmental policies, voluntary business action or spontaneous change in people’s lifestyles, the law can be a powerful instrument to enhance sustainability, address climate change and ecological damage. Global agreements, treaties and domestic laws, which create binding obligations on companies and governments, could stir much needed action. A variety of legal fields can contribute to protect the environment and increase sustainability. Criminal law, for example, may help prosecute major polluters, poachers and traders in natural resources and other environmental offenders. Private law can be used to legally bind others to preserve natural habitats or to restore environmental or ecological damage. Even tax law can be a powerful instrument to counteract damaging activities and to enhance a sustainable lifestyle. At a more systemic level, some laws are starting to establish the rights of nature. Examples include Bolivia recognizing the rights of Mother Earth and New Zeeland recognizing rivers as juridical entities. 

In recent initiatives of legal mobilization, a dearth of climate change litigation has emerged, where NGOs and citizens have sued their own governments for not adhering to international agreements (particularly the Paris Agreement), using the justice system to force their governments to act. The relevance of sustainability for law was again emphasized on 26 May 2021 in a ruling by The Hague court which ordered Royal Dutch Shell to reduce CO2 emissions. Six (environmental) NGOs together with over 17,000 citizens had initiated this collective action. The ruling is considered historic because, after the Urgenda judgment in the Netherlands, not only states, but also multinationals are held liable for possible future environmental hazards. Last but not least, in June 2021, legal experts from across the world drafted a definition of ‘ecocide’ which they hope will be adopted by the International Criminal Court. Following a decade long campaign, led by the late Polly Higgins, they demand ecocide to be recognized as a crime against humanity. At the same time, it is not always clear whether the law is the most effective instrument to achieve change and more insight is needed in the question about when and how the law can be used as an instrument to address global ecological challenges.


The Seminar is a joint project of Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus Law Review and the Erasmus Initiative on Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity. Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity is a multidisciplinary research centre founded by Erasmus University. The initiative brings together scholars in law, business and philosophy with the aim to enable as many people as possible to benefit from increasing prosperity, whilst minimising the negative consequences.

Organizing Committee: Prof. Alessandra Arcuri, Prof. Lieselot Bisschop and Prof. Frank Weerman. For questions about the submission procedure, write to  


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