Scholarship Trends in International Environmental Law

What do the numbers show about the trajectory of scholarship in international environmental law?

It can be difficult to identify patterns  in legal scholarship.  One way of doing that is to check on the frequency of key words, using Westlaw or Lexis-Nexis to track the numbers.  There are some interesting patterns in scholarship on international environmental law:

  1. The field came into its own in the decade from 1987 and 1997.  Indeed, the phrase “international environmental law” was barely used at the beginning of that decade but commonplace by the end.
  2. Key ideas from international environmental law such as sustainable development and the precautionary principle have found footholds in U.S. scholarship,  Attention to these concepts grew continuously from 1987 to 2007 but may have stabilized since then.
  3. There has been steadily growing attention over the past 15 years to international agreements dealing with climate change and oceans.

These tables provide the numbers:

Table 1

Year UNFCCC* UNCLOS** “International Environmental Law” “Trans-boundary Pollution” Montreal Conv.***
2012 132 305 273  30  58
2007   82 286 333  52  79
2002   28 248 280  40  63
1997     7 235 298  41  83
1992     0 119   91  31  79
1987     0   92     7     5     0

*The UNFCCC climate change agreement was adopted in 1992. The search was for “UNFCCC”.  All searches were in the Westlaw JLR database.

**UNCLOS – the Law of the Sea Convention — was adopted in 1982. The search was for “Law of the Sea.”

***The Montreal Ozone Convention was adopted in 1987.  The search was for “Montreal /s Ozone.”

Table 2

Year “precautionary principle” “polluter pays” “sustainable development”
2012 257 95 661
2007 233 80 753
2002 151 55 455
1997   75 84 365
1992   17 45   92
1987      0   0     2

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