Interview: international law still does not fully consider ecosystem integrity

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the Research Office of the Graduate Institute of Geneva about the findings of my PhD dissertation, titled Protecting Ecosystem Integrity in the Age of Planetary Boundaries: Science, International Environmental Law, and the Ecosystem Approach.

In the interview, I explain the core argument of my doctoral project, namely that international environmental law does not fully incorporate the massive advances in our understanding of ecosystems that have characterised the recent evolution of environmental sciences and technologies. In particular, I argue that multilateral agreements in areas such as fisheries management, freshwater, and biodiversity still largely fail to grasp the importance of maintaining the integrity of ecosystems, that is, their capacity to provide the goods and services upon which humanity depends:

“While environmental treaties […] have indeed adopted more integrated regulatory techniques [to govern ecosystems], they have mainly done so through “procedural” provisions which only prescribe States a certain conduct […]. By contrast, these agreements have so far failed to introduce “substantive” obligations requiring countries to protect the integrity of their ecosystems vis-à-vis the international community.”

The interview, which notes the relevance of the thesis findings for the ongoing negotiations on the post-2020 framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity, further reflects on the role that States’ sovereign rights over their biological resources play in undermining the adoption of stronger international rules for the protection of ecosystems:

“Understandably, there have been important historical reasons that explain why this principle remains so relevant […]. However, the fact remains that the integrity of the entire biosphere may be at risk if states continue to destroy ecosystems at the current pace. This means that there should, at the very least, be a significant political push towards stronger compliance mechanisms in environmental treaties and greater cooperation in the regulation of ecosystems, including through forms of joint management and knowledge and technology transfer.”

The full interview is available here. For the members of the Graduate Institute’s community, the PhD manuscript is available in open access through that link.

Co-editor of ‘Partnerships for Sustainability in Contemporary Global Governance’

In May of this year, Routledge finally published Partnerships for Sustainability in Contemporary Global Governance: Pathways to Effectiveness, a co-edited volume which represents the main research output of the time I spent as a researcher for the Centre for International Environmental Studies (CIES) in Geneva, Switzerland. The volume, which I had the pleasure of co-editing with Liliana Andonova and Moira Faul, bears the fruits of a 3-year project on the ‘Effectiveness of Partnerships for Sustainability‘ that was supported by the Swiss Network of International Studies (SNIS) and hosted by the CIES.

In the book, we develop an interdisciplinary framework for assessing the contribution of transnational partnerships between public and non-State actors to the solution of pressing sustainable development challenges, in the wider context of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals. With the help of researchers from a number of institutions, including the Harvard Kennedy School, the University of Zurich and the University of Geneva, among others, we then seek to apply this framework to a series of empirical case studies in issue areas such as biodiversity loss, climate change, global health, and children’s rights. Beside my role as co-editor of the volume, I co-authored several of its chapters, including a study on transnational partnerships for the conservation of biodiversity and the development of renewable energy infrastructure in Brazil, Ecuador and Costa Rica.

The book was officially launched during an event co-hosted on 5 September by NORRAG, the CIES and the Global Governance Centre of the Graduate Institute of Geneva. The news coverage of the event was published by the Graduate Institute here, while the book is available in Open Access format on Routledge’s website.

New position at the European Environment Agency

I am pleased to announce that, starting in February 2022, I will have the humbling and exciting opportunity to serve the European Union as an ‘Expert in Environment, Human Health and Well-being‘ at the European Environment Agency (EEA) in Copenhagen, Denmark. At the EEA, I will be mainly following dossiers relating to the interface between human health, food systems and biodiversity, while also contributing to the Agency’s broader work on Zero Pollution and environmental health.

I do encourage you to learn more about the invaluable work that the EEA does in providing sound, independent information about the state of the European environment and supporting policy development, implementation and monitoring in the EU:

I will still occasionally post updates on this website. For the time being, however, all my opinions, articles and research papers must be understood as published in a personal capacity and not necessarily representing the views and activities of the EEA. Moreover, all my consulting activities, which I conducted through Dario Piselli Sustainability Consulting, are currently suspended.

Co-author of new Lancet and Financial Times Commission report

On 24 October 2021, The Lancet and Financial Times Commission on Governing Health Futures 2030 announced the publication of its long-awaited report during an event at the World Health Summit in Berlin.

In the report, which I co-authored, we explore the multi-faceted interactions of digital technologies and human health and well-being. We argue that digital technologies and data should be considered as increasingly important determinants of health, both in their own right and in relation to other social, commercial, and environmental determinants. As a result, we call on policy-makers to dramatically rethink what Universal Health Coverage means in in a digital age, and we urge them to govern digital transformations according to a precautionary, value-based framework rooted in established public health principles.

In practice, we propose four main action areas. First, governments must close all digital, health and education divides by 2030, as a necessary baseline for sustainable health futures. Secondly, it is vital to build public trust in the digital (health) ecosystem. This means ensuring public participation ‘by default’ in the design and governance of digital health tools, for example through open data and bottom-up accountability mechanisms. Third, we suggest a new approach to health and health-related data, rooted in the concept of data solidarity. We need independent data institutions in every country, to protect privacy while ensuring that data is easily used and shared when needed for the public good. Fourth, governments must invest in the pillars of digitally-enabled health systems, while also ensuring that digital health solutions are tailored to local contexts and needs. For example, digital public goods can be a key component of digital health strategies in many countries.

You can read the whole report here.

New comment for the EIEL website on logging in the Białowieża forest

A few weeks ago, the Polish government announced the release of an update to its management plan for the Białowieża forest in eastern Poland – parts of which are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a Natura 2000 site, and a national park – and authorised new logging operations in the area for the first time since 2016.

According to the authorities, the updated plan proves the country’s intent to comply with the 2018 judgment of the Court of Justice of the EU in Commission v Poland (C-441/17), which had found it in breach of the Habitats and Birds Directives. Some experts and advocacy groups, on the other hand, argue that the announcement merely represents the new chapter of an ongoing controversy over Poland’s violation of European environmental law.

I have shared some reflections on the plan, its relationship with the ruling of the Court of Justice of the EU, and the recent letter of notice addressed to Poland by the European Commission on the blog of the Jean Monnet Module in European and International Environmental Law (EIEL), which is hosted by the University of Siena and co-funded by an Erasmus+ grant until 2023.

You can find my comment here.

Photo creditsBialowieża National Park (detail), by Mariusz Cieszewski, CC BY-NC 2.0.

New Erasmus+ grant award for European and international environmental law studies

I am excited to announce that after three years as programme manager of a Jean Monnet Module in European Union Law and Sustainable Development (EULawSD), I am once again the co-recipient of an Erasmus+ grant for Jean Monnet Activities, which was awarded by the European Commission’s Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) as part of its 2020 call for proposals.

The grant concerns a new Jean Monnet Module, entitled ‘European and International Environmental Law‘ (EIEL), which is closely related to, and builds upon, the activities of the EULawSD module. In particular, the module aims to provide students, practitioners and European civil society with in-depth knowledge about the state of the art of European and international environmental law and policy, its achievements and challenges, and its interaction with emerging environmental issues and landmark intergovernmental processes. 

Two overarching themes will run through the module, informing the discussion of both cross-cutting and sectoral topics in all project activities. The first is the importance that will be attributed to the most pressing and/or emerging issues in European and international environmental law, with an emphasis on the Union’s approach to the two major planetary crisis of climate change and biodiversity loss and its role in the implementation of the relevant international legal instruments (i.e. the Paris Agreement, the Convention on Biological Diversity and its post-2020 framework). The second will be represented by a particular focus on implementation and enforcement at the level of the EU and its Member States, consistent with the outstanding needs outlined in the Commission’s latest Environmental Implementation Review (2019).

The EIEL module will similarly be hosted by the Department of Law of the University of Siena, and will be implemented for three years starting on September 1st, 2020. Module activities will consist of the following: (i) 50 hours of lectures, group discussions and seminars across four courses offered by the Department of Law; (ii) engagement of academics, practitioners and civil society through public keynote lectures, webinars and a final conference; and (iii) a dedicated website, social media pages, a newsletter and at least two publications which will facilitate the dissemination of the project’s research outputs.

Professor Riccardo Pavoni will be the academic coordinator for the module, while I will retain the role of programme manager and Professor Sonia Carmignani will remain a member of the teaching staff. The EIEL team will also include two new key teaching staff members, Professor Elisa Morgera and Gabriele Salvi. Elisa Morgera is widely recognised as one of the world’s foremost experts in the field of international environmental law. She is currently Professor of Global Environmental Law at the University of Strathclyde Glasgow and Co-Director of the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance. Gabriele Salvi is a Senior Researcher in Civil Law at the University of Siena, and brings a specific expertise in the private law aspects of European environmental law to the team.

Photo credits: contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by European Space Agency, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.