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Enforcement Mechanisms in International Law and International Environmental Law

Jutta Brunnée

elni Review 2005, Issue 1,  pp. 1-12. https://doi.org/10.46850/elni.2005.001

This essay aims to launch the proceedings of international law on a high note, and to suggest that many common impressions of it are wrong in general, and particularly wrong in the context of international environmental law. Even more particularly, multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) illustrate the maturation and sophistication of international environmental law. If anything, the diversity and flexibility of compliance approaches under MEAs highlight the limited purchase of simple dichotomies such as “binding vs. non-binding” or “enforcement vs. ineffectiveness”. 
The essay begins by exploring the concept of “enforcement” in international law in general. It suggests that a concept of enforcement as imposition of legal sanctions, or penalties, is unduly narrow. The essay then canvasses some of the main theoretical assumptions about international law and compliance. An exploration of this theoretical context illuminates the reasons underlying common misconceptions about international law and its enforcement, and helps put in perspective the evolution of approaches to compliance in international environmental law. Finally, against the backdrop of these general considerations, the author examines key features of the approaches to compliance and enforcement in international environmental law and MEAs. The aim is to provide a ‘bigger picture’, a context for the detailed discussions of compliance mechanisms that make up the bulk of the conference proceedings.

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