Revisiting the debate on the legal status of sustainable development in international law
: ideas and proposals on how international law could aid sustainable development to promote its aims

  • Ilias Kapsis

Student thesis: Master's ThesisUnspecified Master's Degree


This thesis is about the legal status of sustainable development in international law. In particular, the thesis revisits the debate of the legal status of sustainable development seeking to identify solutions in international law that would help to promote sustainable development’s case. The thesis accepts that sustainable development performs a useful function seeking to improve the quality of life for current and future human generations and for the planet as a whole and that for this reason international law should offer sufficient support. At the moment there are various problems raising obstacles to the process. These problems in a great extent arise out of the considerable uncertainty currently existing about the exact meaning and scope of sustainable development which has resulted in the failure of the concept so far to achieve a customary law status. The thesis revisits the issue and approaches it from both sustainable development and international law perspectives. In particular, it looks into the definitional problem and the principles underpinning sustainable development seeking answers on whether the definitional problems is so serious that excludes any possibility that sustainable development will acquire the status of an obligatory norm in the future. Then the focus shifts on the current structure and operation of international law which has so far refused to grant the concept a binding status. The aim of this analysis is to explain the reasons behind the current treatment of sustainable development by international law as well as to identify potential opportunities for overcoming the current difficulties. The conclusion reached is that despite the problems sustainable development has great potential and that there are other tools, in addition to custom, that could be used to enhance the concept’s status in international law and help promote its case.
Date of Award13 Mar 2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorRachel H Murray (Supervisor)

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