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Researching International Environmental Law: Getting Started


Sean D. Murphy, in the third edition of Principles of International Law, writes that International Environmental Law (IEL) is "a relatively recent branch of international law concerned with the preservation and enhancement of the global environment. To address transnational environmental problems, such as ozone depletion, climate change, and loss of biological diversity, [S]tates have developed a network of agreements and institutions, as well as certain legal principles and techniques, that are unique to this field of international law." (p. 489).

In the Routledge Handbook of International Environmental Law, James R. May and J. Patrick Kelly explain that "[e]nvironmental legal principles and policy prescriptions emerge from the use of international sources and processes to make law and to cooperate to solve problems. While international law and legal processes may be mechanisms to address transboundary environmental problems, it is a relatively undeveloped and cumbersome system, not an integrated, hierarchical system of universal rules and principles." (p. 15).

The IEL framework is thus based on both "soft" and "hard" law norms, including the traditional sources of public international law, which are enumerated in Article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice (the ICJ Statute): 1) international conventions (also known as treaties); 2) customary law (general practices of countries and IGOs that are legally binding); 3) general principles of law; and 4) judicial decisions and the “teachings of the most highly qualified publicists of the various nations.” (Statute of the International Court of Justice, art. 38, June 26, 1945, 59 Stat. 1055, 33 U.N.T.S. 993).

The Law Library has a wide array of resources in both print and electronic formats that can help with IEL research. There are also many useful websites listed in this guide that are specific to the field. In addition, the guide lists “current awareness” sources that researchers may utilize to keep abreast of IEL developments.


For assistance citing to foreign and international materials in U.S. legal publications and documents, see the most recent edition of The Bluebook (the 21st). Note that Table 2 on Foreign Jurisdictions is now posted on The Bluebook's webpage (no fee).  See also the following title in the Law Library's reference section for assistance interpreting foreign and international legal citations:

AR6Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis


Under the auspices of the Hauser Global Law School Program at New York University, GlobaLex provides links to a growing collection of articles on foreign, comparative, and international legal research. The following guides are related to the general topic of international environmental law. 

Introductory eBooks

The following are eBooks that focus on IEL or contain chapters that do. These are all available in the Law Library's West Academic Study Aids subscription. 

Environmental Law Society (Loyola Law)

The LUC Law School has an active Environmental Law Society. For more information, see its webpage.  

"The Environmental Law Society (ELS) seeks to build a community of student members who want a career in environmental law, or who wish to incorporate good environmental policy into their chosen practice area. We accomplish this mission by developing and promoting events and programs for its members. We are committed to the continued promotion of student and community awareness and education in the field of environmental affairs from ethical, legal, scientific, economic, policy, and sociological perspectives. Environmental issues are relevant for those in practice of all areas of law, including international law, health law, child law, and human and civil rights law."

Loyola recently welcomed Professor Kalyani Robbins and Morris I. Liebman Professor, Carmen G. Gonzalez, who teach year-round classes on topics ranging from International Environmental Law to Natural Resource Management. 

Subject Guide

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Julienne Grant
Loyola University School of Law Library
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Online Translators

English translations of foreign and international legal materials are often difficult to locate and can be unreliable.  Only in rare instances are authoritative English translations available.  If authoritative versions are not available, look for "official" translations that are created by, or for, a government organization.  Further, look for synoptic translations, which allow for side-by-side comparisons of the vernacular with the English translation.  Some types of legal materials are translated into English more often than others, such as those pertaining to commercial law. 

Many online translators are available on the WWW, but these should be used with caution since Web translators do not generally include specialized legal or commercial vocabulary.  Online translators, however, may be of some help in getting the general sense of a document or passage.  Examples of WWW translators are: