The EU is commonly regarded as a global frontrunner in terms of environmental protection, in large part due to its contribution to the emergence and development of both internal and external environmental laws and regulatory regimes. This new edited volume by Mar Campins Eritja et al on the EU and global environmental protection largely centres on the question whether the EU can (still) be regarded as such a frontrunner and, if so, whether it is able to transform such influence into action at the international level. In doing so, the different scholars involved present fresh ideas and noteworthy conclusions.
In the introduction of the book, it is explained how, for the EU, its internal regulatory actions in the environmental domain serve as an important instrument to be able to establish a normative model as ‘global benchmark’ to be emulated by the broader international community. The volume sets out to discuss both these elements of the EU’s exercising of its competences internally on the one hand, and the EU’s participation in international tools and mechanisms on the other. For this purpose, the volume starts with an introduction to the main EU legal competences and regulatory mechanisms in this area, followed by a selection of case studies of both regulated environmental fields such as climate change, biodiversity and multilateral trade, as well as (mostly) unregulated areas such as environmental crime and environmental migration. While there are always more areas that could be added to the list of interesting environmental sub-fields, the cross-cutting selection provides for a focused and accessible volume that will appeal to a broad range of readers interested in legal environmental issues as they unfold at the international stage.
One core element that particularly helps in keeping the pace is the focus on the EU as a single unit of analysis, as opposed to engaging the interests and influence of the individual Member States. As emphasised also in the foreword written by Ludwig Krämer, environmental law is a topic well-suited to bypass purely nation-state focused discussions, particularly in light of the important external competences the EU has developed over the years.
In taking a mostly legalistic approach to analysing the various environmental topics at hand, I do believe the authors could have widened their potential audience by paying more attention to the situation on the ground. The chapter on the EU’s fight against illegal and unregulated fishing, for instance, will be of great interest to those who have recently watched Seaspiracy and were left wondering if they ‘should ever eat fish again’. Discussing the breadth of rules and mechanisms the EU has put in place to regulate fishing activities in its own waters and beyond, the author highlights the different ways in which the EU is taking a leadership role here. What I would have liked to learn more about, however, is: are the enforcement tools distinguished actually used in practice? Are the EU’s laws and regulations in fact changing practices in real life?
In this context, the book’s subtitle of ‘transforming influence into action’ is perhaps not reflected fully in the content of all the chapters, which overall have a tendency to focus on the law in the books as opposed to law in action. Nonetheless, I do feel editor Campins Eritja has done an excellent job in gathering scholars with different strengths, expertise and perspectives as a way of gaining new insights on an overarching theme that increases in urgency on a daily basis. The different chapters identify various ways in which the EU could or should strengthen its international position and bolster its regulatory power to promote better international environmental governance (p. 3). It is clear that much more work remains to be done here by the EU and the international community as a whole – as well as for scholars interested in further analysing the influence and impact of the EU in the field of global environmental protection.
Edwin Alblas is a PhD candidate in environmental law and regulation at the University College Dublin.