Daniel Bodansky

in The Oxford Handbook of International Environmental Law

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780199552153
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Law


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Compared to ‘illegitimacy’, ‘legitimacy’ has a more precise meaning in political theory and sociology, focusing on the justification and acceptance of political authority – the authority of the International Whaling Commission to ban commercial whaling, for example, or of the World Trade Organisation to review measures adopted pursuant to environmental agreements. A legitimate institution is one that has a right to govern – for example, based on tradition, expertise, legality, or public accountability – rather than one relying on the mere exercise of power. In recent years, legitimacy has begun to emerge as an issue not only in international law generally but also in international environmental law more specifically. This article deals with the issue of legitimacy. It first looks at the concept of legitimacy and then presents a typology of legitimacy theories, why legitimacy is a growing issue in international environmental law, and alternative bases of legitimacy, focusing on democracy, participation and transparency, and expertise and effectiveness. The article concludes by considering how to develop trust in international environmental institutions.

Keywords: legitimacy; international law; international environmental law; legitimacy theories; democracy; participation; transparency; expertise; effectiveness; trust

Article.  8449 words. 

Subjects: Law ; International Law ; Environment and Energy Law

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