Austin Langon[1]

On November 3, the people of Pennsylvania will be asked to elect their newest justices for the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. With the plurality decision of Robinson Twp. v. Commonwealth at risk of being altered, the following information is presented to voters to serve as guide on where prospective justices stand. This past spring, the League of Women Voters presented candidates with two questions:

  1. Do you agree with the plurality opinion’s interpretation of Article 1, Section 27 of the state constitution as stated in the Robinson Township case of December 2013? If not, why not?
  2. Do you agree that the plain English language meaning of the amendment should be the basis for construing it?

Here are the candidates’ responses to these questions.


Christine Donohue—Pittsburgh, Allegheny Co.

    • Education: 1974, East Stroudsburg University, B.A.; 1980, Duquesne University School of Law, J.D.
    • Occupation: Superior Court Judge.
  • Answer to Questions: In my opinion the Robinson Township plurality’s discussion of the Environmental Rights Amendment is well-researched and based upon a convincing recitation of the historical basis for its passage. Because the analysis is the basis of a three-justice plurality decision and the author and one of the joining justices are no longer on the court on which I hope to serve, it would be improper for me to express my agreement or disagreement with the analysis. This is by definition an open question of the law, which is likely to again be presented to the Supreme Court.
  • Question 2: For the reasons stated in my first answer, I do not believe that I can respond to this question. I note, however that it is well established in the law that the “touchstone” of constitutional interpretation is the actual language of the constitution and it must be interpreted in its popular sense. As the Robinson Township plurality opinion explains, the ultimate goal of constitutional interpretation is to determine the intent of the voters who ratified the constitutional provision.

Kevin M. Dougherty—Newtown, Philadelphia, PA

    • Education: 1985, Temple University, B.A.;1987, Antioch School of Law, J.D.
    • Occupation: Administrative Judge of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Trial Div.
  • Answer to Questions: I agree with the plurality opinion’s interpretation of the Environmental Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution. I agree with the determination that this legal dispute, in essence, sought vindication of the citizens’ rights to the quality of life on their properties and in their communities, and that insofar as the broadly granted zoning rights to the oil and gas industry attendant to Act 13 threatened the quality of air and water, as well as the health and safety of citizens and the quiet enjoyment of their own private property, the challenged sections of the Act violated the Environmental Rights Amendment.
  • Question 2: Yes, the plurality opinion makes clear that the Court employed the plain language of the Amendment as the basis for construing its provisions. The plurality correctly determined that the Amendment granted individual citizens the environmental rights to clean air and pure water, and to the preservation of natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. The plurality properly held that the people, including generations to come, hold common ownership of public natural resources, which the state holds in trust. The plurality properly reviewed the legislative history to conclude that the Amendment’s provisions were intended to be broadly applicable.

David Wecht—Pittsburgh, PA Indiana Township

    • Education: 1984, Yale University, B.A., summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa; 1987 Yale Law School, J.D.
    • Occupation: Judge, Pennsylvania Superior Court (elected January 2011)
    • Administrator; Allegheny Register of Wills (1998-2003); Vice Chair, Pennsylvania
  • Answer to Questions: I believe that laws are neither static, nor talismanic. While a reasonable jurist must read the text of the amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution plainly and with common sense, I believe that laws, and more specifically judicial interpretation of those laws, must be allowed to evolve within our common law system.


Anne Covey, New Hope, PA—Upper Makefield

    • Education: 1984, Widener University School of Law, J.D.; 1981, University of Delaware, B.A.
    • Occupation: Judge of the Commonwealth Court
  • Answer to Questions: Judges should follow the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions faithfully. The legislative and executive branches enact the laws and judges interpret those laws. I believe we must strike a balance between local control and uniform policy across the state. We must also work for a healthy environment while allowing for investment and job creation. Developing the policies to achieve these aims is the responsibility of the legislative and executive branch, not the judiciary.
  • Question 2: I believe in interpreting the law as written and ensuring all amendments are consistent with our fundamental Constitutional rights.

Mike George, Gettysburg, PA—Cumberland Township

    • Education: 1981, Washington & Jefferson, B.A.; 1985, Dickinson School of Law, J.D.
    • Occupation: President Judge, 51st Judicial District Court of Common Pleas (Adams Co.)
  • Answer to Questions: As my interpretation of Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution based upon the factual scenario present in the Robinson Township case involves issues which may, in the future, be revisited by the Supreme Court, I believe I am ethically prohibited from direct comment on your specific question. Personally, I am concerned with the language in the plurality opinion’s interpretation which improperly elevates the Court to a legislative and policy making body.
  • Question 2: The amendment should be interpreted based upon its actual language as understood by those at the time of adoption.

Judy Olson, Wexford, PA—Franklin Park

    • Education: 1979, St. Francis University, B.A. Magna Cum Laude; 1982, Duquesne University School of Law, J.D. (Class Rank-2/91)
    • Occupation: Judge, Superior Court of Pennsylvania
  • Answer to Questions: As a sitting judge, I do not believe that it is appropriate for me to comment on whether I agree or disagree with a decision rendered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, especially since there may be future litigation involving the Act at issue.
  • Question 2: I believe that a judge must always strictly construe the plain language of constitutional amendments and statutes in interpreting the law.


Hon. Paul P. Panepinto—Philadelphia, PA

  • Education: B.A. and M.A. Villanova University 1976; J.D. Widener University School of Law
  • Occupation: Judge Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas
  • Answers: N/A


All information was gathered from and

[1] Class of 2016, Widener University Commonwealth Law School.

Widener Harrisburg Offers Unique Environmental, Sustainability Opportunities

For third-year law student and Harrisburg resident Pia Aklian, presenting proposed sustainability ordinances to the Harrisburg City Council last year was more than a routine class assignment.

“I actually live here. Helping Harrisburg increase its residential recycling rates is very personal to me. Not only did this class take me out of the library, it gave me a chance to make a difference.”

Aklian did this work as part of the Sustainability Law and Practice Class she took in 2014 with Distinguished Professor of Law John C. Dernbach, a nationally-recognized environmental law expert and a prominent Pennsylvania legal theorist whose work has been cited by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a ground-breaking environmental and constitutional case.

To reflect this emphasis on sustainable development, Widener Harrisburg’s Environmental Law Center is being renamed as the Environmental Law and Sustainability Center.   “No other law school has our combination of environmental law, sustainability and climate change experience,” said Interim Dean Robyn L. Meadows. “And Widener Law Commonwealth’s location in the capital of the nation’s sixth most populous state makes it an influential place for the development and implementation of environmental and sustainability laws.” On July 1, Widener Harrisburg will be named Widener University Commonwealth Law School.

Professor Dernbach has long been a vocal proponent of the concept of sustainable development, which, as he puts it, is a way of addressing environmental problems while also achieving social and economic goals.

According to Dernbach, the principles of sustainability provide a framework for governments and companies to further development and environmental protection at the same time.

“It’s entirely possible to consider the environment AND the economy,” said Professor Dernbach. “In fact, it’s unacceptable NOT to consider them together.”

Aklian praised Professor Dernbach’s expertise and commitment to teaching.

“He makes sustainability and environmental law relevant; he’s so far ahead of his time. In just that one class we presented sustainability regulations to Harrisburg City Council, we had guest speakers, we toured the City of Lancaster and even met with the mayor there to talk about sustainability and urban development,” she said.

Aklian spoke proudly of her work for the City and the fact that she can count it among her clients.

“Harrisburg has low rates of residential recycling,” she said. “I was able to present them not only with updated regulations but also with some creative education and outreach ideas like more visible recycling bins, re-routing trucks to incorporate more neighborhoods with multi-family housing units, and issuing more bins to families all over the City.”

“This was more than handing in a paper. It was like moot court but on a much larger scale,” she said. “This was important public policy work; I presented real regulations to powerful people and I had to get them to believe in what I was saying. It was a unique opportunity.”

Remarkably, Professor Dernbach isn’t the only environmental scholar of national note at Widener Harrisburg. The law school is also the academic home to one of the country’s few environmental ethics experts, Professor Donald A. Brown, Scholar in Residence for Sustainability Ethics and Law.

Professors Dernbach and Brown worked for many years at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources/Department of Environmental Protection, and have extensive experience drafting, implementing, and litigating environmental laws.

Professor Brown has made it his life’s work in both public and private law practice as well as his academic teaching and scholarship to demonstrate that it is impossible to think clearly about how a nation or state should respond to climate change until the government responds to the ethical and moral dimensions of this enormous threat.

“There are features of climate change that scream for attention as seeing it fundamentally as an ethics and justice problem,” said Professor Brown.

“Not talking about the ethics of climate change is like unilaterally taking the goalie out of a hockey game,” Brown said. “This is true because the strongest arguments against those who oppose climate policies are ethical and moral responses. Yet the public discourse on climate change is ignoring the ethical and moral responses to opponents of climate change policies.”

At the invitation of the United Nations, Professor Brown will be heading to Paris in November to participate in the “21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11), otherwise known as “Paris 2015.” He is currently conducting a research project with the University of Auckland in New Zealand on the extent to which some two dozen countries are using ethical considerations in developing and implementing their climate policies.

Professor Dernbach leads Sustaining America, the only national project assessing U.S. sustainable development efforts and making recommendations for future activities. The project involves approximately 50 experts from a variety of sustainability disciplines and has produced three books, all published by the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C.


Widener Law Professor’s Work Cited in Major Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has extensively quoted the work of Distinguished Law Professor John C. Dernbach in a high-profile decision that significantly affects the state’s booming oil and gas industry.

The case, Robinson Township v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, decided Dec. 19, 2014 cites Dernbach in seven instances throughout the 162-page plurality decision. The court ruled that significant parts of Act 13, Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale drilling law, are unconstitutional.

“It’s a very important decision,” Dernbach said, after reading the court’s four opinions, including the plurality opinion by three justices, another by a fourth justice who concurred under a different line of legal reasoning, and two separate dissents by other justices. Two more justices did not participate in the decision. “I am also gratified that members of the court found my work helpful.”

The court held unconstitutional significant parts of Act 13, a 2012 law enacted to foster gas extraction from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale reserves. Several parts of the law limited local governments’ abilities to review and approve gas operations under their planning and zoning laws. Another part of the law allowed the Department of Environmental Protection to waive mandatory distance limits between gas operations and water bodies like streams and wetlands.

The three-justice plurality opinion, written by Chief Justice Ronald E. Castille and joined by Justice Debra McCloskey Todd and Seamus P. McCaffery, held these provisions unconstitutional under Article I, section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Justice Max Baer concurred under a different line of legal reasoning, and would have struck the law as violative of substantive due process.

The opinion cited multiple Dernbach publications, including two articles published in 1999 in the Dickinson Law Review. They include “Taking the Pennsylvania Constitution Seriously When it Protects the Environment: Part I – An Interpretative Framework for Article I, Section 27,” and “Taking the Pennsylvania Constitution Seriously When it Protects the Environment: Part II – Environmental Rights and Public Trust.” The plurality also cited a chapter he authored for “The Pennsylvania Constitution: A Treatise on Rights and Liberties,” published in 2004.

Dernbach said the implications of the decision will be felt for years, or even decades. He was impressed with the depth of legal reasoning that went into the opinion. “The plurality treats Article I, Section 27 as actual constitutional law, and treats its text seriously,” he said. “It begins to free the amendment from decades of judge-made limits on its meaning and applicability.”

The Real Story of the (In)famous Snail Darter Case

In its 1978 decision in Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Endangered Species Act prohibited the closure of a dam on the Little Tennessee River.   The absence of free flowing water, the Court decided, would jeopardize the continued existence of the snail darter, a small fish that lived only in that part of the river.   But the citizens and farmers–who brought the case to protect their livelihoods against a public works boondoggle–still lost.

Professor Zygmunt Plater, professor of law at Boston College who was the lead lawyer in the case, told the story at Widener’s Harrisburg, Pennsylvania campus on April 8.  His memorable presentation was at times moving, humorous, and sobering.  A recording is available here.

Congress subsequently amended the law to provide that a special “God Committee” could let the project go ahead if it were important enough to justify the eradication of the species.  But the Committee found that even the remaining costs of the project (it was mostly completed at the time) exceeded its total benefits.  Then, because of a late-night amendment to appropriations legislation, Congress subsequently exempted this project from the act altogether, and the dam was closed.     Project advocates framed the case  as “little fish vs. big dam” and environmental extremism, and the media bought into those frames.

Professor Plater, who is also the author of the recently published book, The Snail Darter and the Dam: How Pork-Barrel Politics endangered a Little Fish and Killed a River (Yale University Press 2013), pointed out that this is not the first or only time when the facts didn’t count in the public debate over an environmental issue.  Climate disruption is another example.  The recently released reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the National Climate Assessment, which provide the most sobering account of climate change yet, may or may not prompt a greater public demand for action.  Still, one thing is clear from his story: an engaged citizenry doesn’t guarantee victory, but victory is impossible without it.   His story is a tribute to perseverance and principle in the face of daunting odds, and he and his clients nearly won.

Climate Change and Sustainable Development: A Perspective from Britain

Cambridge, United Kingdom—Stars and a full moon covered the sky over this city on the night that the eye of Hurricane Sandy crossed over my house in Pennsylvania. And, at the end of BBC’s all-night coverage of the presidential election, Mitt Romney gave his concession speech just as the sky began to lighten. Such is what it means to spend part of my sabbatical at the University of Cambridge.

The U.S. election and Hurricane Sandy obscured other developments that are also important. I took my sabbatical here to see what Britain is doing on sustainable development and climate change. My most recent book on U.S. sustainability, Acting as if Tomorrow Matters: Accelerating the Transition to Sustainability, was published in June.

The United Kingdom provides an important reference point for the United States because of our common language and history as well as the similarity of our legal systems and culture. Americans have stronger ties with few other countries than they have with Britain. While Britain is far from perfect, it is considerably ahead of the U.S. on sustainability and climate change.

Some snapshots:

• People here generally understand that climate change is an issue that needs to be taken seriously. The media in this country noted New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s endorsement of Barack Obama because of climate change, and Obama’s reference to global warming in his victory speech. But they were also critical of the near-total avoidance of this issue during the campaign by both candidates. Climate change denial is not as significant in Britain’s political landscape as it is in the United States.

• The United Kingdom adopted its basic climate change legislation in 2008, while George W. Bush was president. The law commits Britain to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 (from 1990 levels). The country is using five-year carbon budgets to meet these objectives. An independent body called the Committee on Climate Change is both advising the government and reporting on progress. There is no comparable law in the U.S., though Congress came close in 2009 and 2010.

• In 2008, the UK Government created the Department of Energy and Climate Change to ensure that climate change and energy issues are addressed together. A government department with climate change in its name also has considerable political significance. The U.S. simply has a Department of Energy, with real but limited ability to address climate change.

• The United Kingdom and other members of the European Union have set a target of meeting 15% of their energy demand from renewable sources by 2020. (Renewables provided only 3% of the UK’s energy in 2009.) The country is on track to meet that target, in no small part because it leads the world in offshore wind energy. In fact, major energy companies, investment firms, and a respected former Conservative party leader (Michael Heseltine) are all saying that a stronger policy framework must be put in place to support the investment necessary to meet the country’s carbon reduction goals. Renewable energy already provides a quarter million jobs, and this could double in the years ahead. The U.S. has no comparable national commitment, though many states are increasing their use of renewable energy.

• As part of the country’s commitment to address climate change, Parliament adopted legislation at the end of 2011 to foster energy efficiency and a low-carbon economy. Among other things, that legislation creates a “Green Deal” for financing energy efficiency improvements in residential and commercial properties without up-front payments. A small surcharge on electric bills provides funding, and costs are to be repaid from reduced energy bills. In the United States, this kind of activity is occurring in many, but not all, states.

• Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions are decreasing; U.S. emissions are increasing, though at a slower pace than previously. The UK’s greenhouse gas emissions declined 23 percent between 1990 and 2010. They are projected to decline a further 25% from 2010 levels by 2025, primarily because of growing use of renewable energy and other changes in electricity production. By contrast, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions increased 10.5% between 1990 and 2010. In the absence of further regulation, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are projected to increase by only 2% between 2010 and 2035, according to the Energy Information Administration, ”due to a combination of modest economic growth, growing use of renewable technologies and fuels, efficiency improvements, slow growth in electricity demand, and increased use of natural gas, which is less carbon-intensive than other fossil fuels.” Significantly, U.S. per capita emissions are about double those of the UK.

• The House of Commons in Parliament has an Environmental Audit Committee that monitors the country’s commitments and actions on behalf of sustainability and climate change. It is made of members of members of the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and Green parties. It issues periodic reports making recommendations on embedding sustainability in the operations of government, on the green economy, and on sustainable food. It is also reviewing the Government’s 2013 budget, “focusing on how the Government should be supporting a green economy in the context of its intention to secure economic growth.” There is nothing like this committee in the U.S. Congress.

• In 1994, the United Kingdom became the first country to produce a sustainable development strategy to make its environmental, economic, security, and social goals work together. Revised strategies were issued in 1999 and 2005, although the coalition government that took power in 2010 has yet to issue a strategy. There was also a Sustainable Development Commission, which operated for a decade as an inspired force on behalf of sustainability in government and, in its later years, as a government watchdog. In what was allegedly a budget cutting move, the coalition government ceased funding the Commission in 2011. The Government has not issued a new sustainable development strategy, though the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (this country’s analogue to the Environmental Protection Agency) issues reports on what the government is doing on behalf of sustainability. The U.S. has never had a national sustainable development strategy.

• A fungus that is likely to be devastating to Britain’s ash trees, evidently introduced from continental Europe and originally from Japan, was first discovered in this country in February 2012. Its effects are now being seen in many places. The fungus (Chalara fraxinea) spreads by wind, and there does not appear to be any cure or treatment. The fungus has the potential to wipe out Britain’s 80 million ash trees. The fungus is raising many questions about how effectively the country protects its borders from plant diseases. Sadly, ash trees in the United States are threatened by the emerald ash borer, an Asian insect accidentally introduced in the 1990s.

• Prime Minister David Cameron, whose Conservative party runs the Government in a coalition with the Liberal Democrat Party, promised in 2010 that his would be the “greenest government ever.” There is skepticism about this claim, backed by some evidence (see above for examples, although it is not clear that his Government can fairly be blamed for the ash fungus). Still, it is remarkable that he made that statement at all, and that he continues to make it.

So a country very much like ours is in many ways treating sustainable development and climate change as opportunities to create jobs, improve security, strengthen its economy, and protect the environment. Could the better parts of this story be replicated in the United States?

Law for Sustainability: A View from Rio de Janeiro

What role can law and lawyers play in the quest for sustainability?  That question has been discussed in a wide variety of side events here, including a Colloquium on Environmental Law and Justice at the Supreme Court of the State of Rio de Janeiro, a World Meeting of Environmental Lawyers at the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden, a conference on Legal Frameworks for Sustainable Development at Fundação Getulio Vargas (a teaching and research institution), and a World Congress on Justice, Governance, and Law for Environmental Sustainability at the Portobello Resort and the State Supreme Court of Rio de Janeiro.

A simple summary of what was said at these events is impossible, but two themes emerge.  First, environmental law matters a great deal.  It protects what would otherwise not be protected, prevents and punishes the worst behaviors, and sets a level playing field for business and industry.  Recent amendments to Brazil’s new forestry law, which provide amnesty to some who have unlawfully cut the country’s rainforests, were subject to a lot of criticism for weakening the country’s regulatory regime.

On the other hand, the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C. has trained more than 1,000 judges in 20 countries on environmental and natural resources law, and many judges, including Justice Antonio Benjamin of Brazil’s Supreme Court, expressed support for expansion of ELI’s work.

Access to justice is also an important issue.  Environmental pollution and degradation hurt not only the environment but also other people.  And so the availability of lawyers who are willing to represent ordinary citizens was often emphasized.

For all its value, however, environmental law is a blunt instrument.  It does not—and probably cannot—require companies and other actors to do their best in furthering environmental, social, and economic goals at the same time.  So the second theme–creation of the “law of sustainability”–is both essential and challenging.  Examples from these side events:

  • Throughout Brazil, landowners (many with low incomes) are being paid for the environmental services that their land provides to others, including protection of biodiversity, carbon storage, scenic beauty, and watershed protection.  Of course, they must engage in specified conservation practices to be paid.
  • Norway and other countries are moving toward “green fiscal reform,” which involves taxation of environmental pollution, often in return for reductions in other taxes, including income taxation.
  • In trade law, the European Union is moving toward sustainability by subjecting bilateral trade agreements to sustainability impact assessment and also by facilitating liberalization of trade in green goods and services.
  • Intellectual property rules, particularly patent law, often discourage innovation for environmental sustainability, including renewable energy, by discouraging new entrants to the field.  To be successful at fostering sustainability, these rules need to be revised.
  • Mexico’s new climate change law, which requires the development of a national plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is also intended to promote a green economy by, among other things, fostering innovation in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
  • In the United States, as I explained at two of these side events, much of the progress toward energy efficiency, renewable energy, organic food production and other sustainable development activities over the past two decades has come about because of laws that are intended to foster those forms of economic development.  (see
  • The list of innovative measures for sustainable development has become so extensive—and the demand for knowledge about these measures so great—that the International Development Law Organization has prepared a compendium of legal best practices for a green economy.

These are only examples of the emerging law of sustainability.  My friend and colleague, Ann Powers, who teaches at Pace Law School, has a nice explanation for how we can create more of these examples.  Law for sustainability, she said, requires “not only analytical skills but also creativity, imagination, and innovation.”  How can we do a better job of teaching, encouraging, and practicing these things?

The U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development—A Tale of Two Narratives

The U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development here in Rio de Janeiro is occurring on the 20th anniversary of the famous 1992 Earth Summit, also in Rio de Janeiro.  At the Earth Summit, heads of state did not just say that sustainable development is a good idea.  They also, and more importantly, pledged to make it happen in their own countries.  One of those heads of state was U.S. President George H.W. Bush.

Twenty years later, a great many heads of state (or, for the United States, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton), will gather to focus on two particular implementation issues—greening the economy to achieve sustainability and eradicate poverty, and creating institutions for sustainability.  But the conference is also intended to reinvigorate the amazing energy that existed at the Earth Summit 20 years ago, when I took a week off from my job at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources and attended as an observer.  While the formal conference runs from June 20-22, a variety of side events and meetings related to the conference have already been going on more than a week.

Two stories or narratives about the conference are developing—both quite different, and each containing a good bit of truth.

On one hand, a great many nongovernmental organizations, corporations, local, state, provincial, and national governments are sharing what they have achieved in the past two decades, and what they hope to achieve.  They have taken actions to move toward sustainability for a variety of reasons—to satisfy customers and investors, to improve quality of life, to save money, and to protect the future for their grandchildren.  They see that making their environmental, social, and economic goals work together (the essence of sustainability) provides more benefits than business as usual.

A new book about sustainability in the United States—Acting as if Tomorrow Matters: Accelerating the Transition to Sustainability—recounts a great many such stories of sustainability in the United States—in local, state, and even national governance; at colleges and universities; and among corporations.  (I am the principal author of that book; see

Here I have heard similar stories from around the world.  The head of Quebec’s government spoke the other night about Plan Nord, a sustainable development plan for the northern two-thirds of the province that will protect from development an area the size of France and provide for sustainable development of the rest.  The plan protects the First Nations (or native) people of Quebec as well as an enormous part of the province’s boreal forest (which is an important area for storing carbon dioxide).  Kenya and Mexico have adopted laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.

On the other hand, there is considerable skepticism here about the formal outcome of the conference.  The official document—entitled “The Future We Want,” is better than many feared, but not as good as many had hoped.  The difficulty in finding common ground among all of the world’s diverse nations feeds a narrative that nothing much has happened here.  That is an easy narrative, of course, in a time when there is already considerable skepticism about government.

However one feels about the official outcome, the important work of sustainability will continue—by the private sector, individual governments, and nongovernmental organizations all over the world.

–John Dernbach, Distinguished Professor of Law, Co-Director, Environmental Law Center