DNA methylation refers to the addition of a methyl group to nucleotides within DNA. As with other epigenetic endpoints, patterns of DNA methylation are susceptible to alterations due to exposure to environmental stressors, including contaminants. These alterations can persist in the absence of the initial stressor as cells divide, and can even be inherited between generations if they occur in the germ line. Although our knowledge concerning patterns of DNA methylation in animals is increasing, there remains a gap in the literature when it comes to species outside of those typically used for biomedical research. Here, I review the literature relating to DNA methylation in an array of taxa (mammals, fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates) and discuss these data from an ecotoxicological perspective. The pattern and extent of DNA methylation is well conserved across species of vertebrates; methylation appears mainly on cytosine residues within a CpG context, and much of the genome is methylated, with the notable exception of cytosines within CpG islands in the promoters of genes. Highly methylated genes in vertebrates tend to be transcriptionally repressed. However, large differences occur between classes of vertebrates in terms of the timing and nature of reprogramming and genomic imprinting: epigenetic processes that establish patterns of DNA methylation in the early embryo and which are sensitive to environmental stress. In invertebrates, patterns of DNA methylation are extremely variable and differ significantly from the condition observed in vertebrates. Some invertebrate genomes exhibit no DNA methylation while others are methylated to a level that is comparable to vertebrates. Additionally, DNA methylation may have different functions in invertebrates, e.g., alternative splicing. This variability in basic patterns of DNA methylation among species during sensitive periods of development suggests that responses to epigenetically active environmental contaminants may be similarly variable. For example, the timing of exposure to a contaminant may be a critical factor when considered in the light of variable reprogramming schedules among species. With this in mind, I review data relating to the effects of contaminants on DNA methylation in animals, focusing on non-model organisms and on exposures in natural environments, when possible. An ecotoxicological perspective on patterns of DNA methylation in animals may improve our understanding of the range and diversity of epigenetic phenomena in the natural world.
Environmental law and policy has come a long way since the birth of the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and the launch of the first European environmental policy in 1972. Today law is no longer centre stage but simply one instrument among others in the environmental regulator's toolkit. And talk of regulation may itself be giving way to the broader concept of environmental governance. This article examines the evolution of environmental law, regulation and governance over almost four decades. It explores the major initiatives of that period and the lessons that can be learned from them, it maps shifting regulatory architectures and explains what has worked and why and it considers the changing nature of the environmental challenge itself. Finally, it seeks to identify which particular architectures are most suited to deal with particular types of environmental problems.
The 2015 Paris Agreement, a product of a deeply discordant political context rife with fundamental and seemingly irresolvable differences between Parties, is an unusual Agreement. It contains a mix of hard, soft and non-obligations, the boundaries between which are blurred, but each of which plays a distinct and valuable role. This article identifies various defining elements of legal character and tabulates the core provisions of the Paris Agreement across a spectrum from those that conform most closely to hard obligations to those that are best characterized as 'non-obligations'. It explores political drivers for the carefully calibrated mix of hard, soft and non-obligations in the Paris Agreement, as well as the dynamic interplay between them, and their critical importance in delivering an agreement acceptable to all.
The ecosystem approach, broadly understood as a legal and governance 'strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources' is being increasingly adopted within a wide variety of international environmental legal regimes. From freshwater to oceans, from biodiversity to fisheries, from Antarctica to climate adaptation, the approach provides a narrative, a policy approach and in some cases legally binding obligations for States to implement what has been called a 'new paradigm' of environmental management. Responding to hopes of arresting, and reversing, the increasingly negative trends of resource depletion and ecological degradation affecting most ecosystems in the world, the ecosystem approach promises to 'protect the environment, maintain healthy ecosystems, preserve biological diversity, and achieve sustainable development', all at once. This article problematises the ecosystem approach in order to highlight its complex genealogies, and its contested and slippery character, which makes it susceptible to discursive capture by competing narratives.
In this analysis piece, we consider a legal question that generated much debate in the lead-up to the US decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement: can a Party downgrade its nationally determined contribution (NDC) to climate mitigation without running afoul of its treaty commitments? Drawing on the treaty interpretation methods set out in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, we examine the Paris Agreement's normative framework and analyse the provision on adjustment of NDCs. We show that, while NDCs as such are not legally binding, they are subject to binding procedural requirements and to normative expectations of progression and highest possible ambition. Read together, these binding and non-binding terms make plain that a Party would contravene the spirit of the Paris Agreement if it downgraded an existing NDC. The US federal government is already scaling back its domestic climate action, such that it is unlikely to meet its NDC. Its Paris withdrawal, however, can only be formally declared in 2019 and will not take effect until 2020. We consider how, during this interim period, the legal implications of the 'withdrawal' approach differ from those of the 'stay-and-downgrade' approach.
Abstract The rise of populism threatens enlightened environmental law. In an age where ignorance is seen as a virtue, not a vice, environmental laws risk regression. No longer are debates about environmental problems driven by opinions founded on evidence, scientific method and reason. Instead, these debates, and how the law should address them, are driven by differing ways of viewing the world. Populists play on cultural biases and intuitive reasoning, personalise politics and use seductive slogans to distort the reality of environmental problems. As we become further estranged from our natural environment, people no longer can verify or deny these populist claims. This comment examines some of the ways populism has taken hold of environmental governance and how it might be addressed.
Abstract The adoption in 2018 of the Escazú Agreement by the countries of the Latin American and Caribbean region marks the second regional legal instrument aimed at the implementation of Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration, joining the Aarhus Convention of the pan-European region. The international community has settled upon the regional level as the appropriate means for implementing standards related to access to information, public participation, and access to justice in environmental matters. The appropriateness of the regional level is demonstrated by the differences and innovations found in the Escazú Agreement, in its scope and definitions, background principles, burden of proof and protections of environmental defenders and vulnerable populations. Yet, the regional approach also entails risks, as demonstrated by the limitation of the scope of rights for nationals of the country where specific activities are planned or occurring.
Abstract This regulatory reflection considers an elusive question: how to secure high levels of business compliance with environmental laws? It examines, at a time of great uncertainty and challenge for environmental law and policy, what forms of regulatory intervention appear to have worked and some that have clearly failed with a view to drawing lessons. Some fresh evidence is presented on specific environmental interventions which the Environment Agency for England has found appear to work and on some which do not appear to work. It is suggested that despite its many shortcomings well-designed and enforced environmental regulation when aligned to the market delivers huge benefits to society.
Abstract This article argues that there is a role for nudging the powerful in the environmental sphere. Like humans, businesses and organisations are not rational. Like humans, this could be exploited using choice architecture (more commonly known as ‘nudging’). Drawing on an empirical study of the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC), this article will explore how social norms can be used to shape organisational behaviour, with a view towards ‘nudging’ them towards more environmentally friendly behaviour. More specifically, social norms can be used to encourage collaboration or competition between regulatees, provided a connection to reputation can be made.
Abstract The assumption that the democratisation of environmental law is central to ensuring the legitimacy of decisions permeates the literature. Using an empirically grounded counter narrative, this article confronts and contests that assumption. It argues that in the context of shale gas/fracking, public understanding positions expertise not as an obstacle to legitimacy, but rather as a foundational factor. This involves a role in which experts fulfil a publicly delegated role, the delineation of which warrants a form of participation that repositions its purpose and value. However, this conceptualisation of an expert’s role, and the type of participation required, demonstrates a fundamental public misunderstanding about what experts can deliver: ‘expert excess’. This article argues that we, as scholars, need to reflect upon: (1) the weight given to empirical perceptions of legitimacy and participation when developing theoretical models; (2) why there is such a misconception around what experts can deliver in decision-making.
Abstract Groundwater resources have come under increasing pressure from overuse and pollution leading to declines in both quantity and quality. As a renewable resource, the continued availability of sufficient and clean groundwater depends on its sustainable use. However, groundwater use has often been unsustainable, and in many countries—both developing and developed—legal and policy frameworks for its sustainable use remain limited and their design and implementation are under-researched. This article examines the drivers that motivate the development and implementation of legal and policy frameworks capable of ensuring the long-term sustainability of groundwater resources. Case studies conducted in Australia and Costa Rica reveal four key drivers: (i) the existence of a water crisis, (ii) awareness—which leads to information, learning and monitoring, (iii) civic leadership to foster meaningful participation and, (iv) government research and funding in order to understand the complexity of groundwater.
Fracking in England has been the subject of significant controversy and has sparked not only public protest but also an associated framing war with differing social constructions of the technology adopted by different sides. This article explores the frames and counter-frames which have been employed by both the anti-fracking movement and by government and the oil and gas industry. It then considers the way in which the English planning and regulatory permitting systems have provided space for these frames within the relevant machinery for public participation. The article thus enables one to see which frames have been allowed a voice and which have been excluded.
Abstract This article tracks the evolution of floodplain development policy in Australia and analyses some recent case law in the light of that policy. Although the dominant policy paradigm promotes strategic risk management combined with affordable and proportionate risk mitigation, the case law analysed adopts a more risk averse and normative tone. There seems to be a clear dichotomy between the preferred risk management approach of the main policy documents and actual practice, at least in the courts. The reasons for this divergence and some reflections on the future of the precautionary principle in the light of this evidence are discussed in the final sections.
Abstract The EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) prescribes environmental objectives and an adaptive water governance system. This article analyses the Swedish implementation of the WFD through a review of high-profile Swedish court cases regarding the application of the WFD environmental objectives in individual authorisation processes for water operations. The selection of court cases represents both the time before and after the Court of Justice of the European Union’s Weser case in 2015. The results indicate an inertial tendency in the legal application of the WFD environmental objectives in Swedish courts, including a reluctance to fully apply EU law as interpreted by the CJEU. The overall conclusion is that traditional legal certainty aspects often trump flexibility and a high level of environmental protection as desired in the adaptive water governance system of the WFD. This raises questions about judicial preconceptions and the procedural autonomy of the Member States vis-à-vis the ‘effet utile’ of EU law through judicial implementation.
Abstract This article concerns the likelihood that decisions adopted at conferences of the parties (COPs) to multilateral environmental agreements will influence the behaviour of States Parties. Relying upon a theory emphasising the importance of rational persuasion of decisions and the legitimacy of decision-making processes, this article explains how choices concerning the preparation of delegates and then participation of delegations at plenary meetings of the parties to environmental treaties might enhance the likelihood of those decisions having a positive effect upon the actions of States Parties. This is done using a case study of the UK delegation to a meeting of the parties to the 1971 Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. That case study also provides examples of potentially positive modalities adopted by the UK, while also revealing suspected concerns for the future surrounding retention of experienced delegates and the impact of Brexit.
Abstract The ecosystem services paradigm is a widely recognised concept in ecology and environmental management, but one that is not uniformly incorporated into environmental law. This article argues that the integration of this paradigm into law can assist with protection of critical environmental resources, using mangrove ecosystems as an example. This article commences with a defence of the ecosystem services paradigm, followed by a discussion of the ecosystem services provided by mangroves. It argues that a comprehensive analysis of existing laws is a necessary first step towards legal reform, and to this end, it proposes a rubric for assessment of laws and legal frameworks. This rubric is applied to laws in Queensland, Australia, as a case study. It concludes by identifying major deficiencies in the recognition of mangrove ecosystem services in existing laws, and calling for reform in this area.