Soft law in public international law: a pragmatic or a principled choice? Comparing the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement

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This paper discusses the role of soft law in international law, in particular in the field of sustainable development law. Soft law is often regarded as non-law. However this qualification increasingly does not match the realities of the development of international law in which many legally relevant statements are made in the form of soft law, while many so-called hard law obligations are rather soft. A comparison between the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on climate change, both adopted in the second half of 2015, is used to illustrate these points. It is argued that in the development of international law can be better understood by placing legal statements on a continuum from weak to strong legal pronunciations instead of using the binary approach that distinguishes between hard and soft law and that qualifies soft law as non-law.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLegal Validity and Soft Law
EditorsPauline Westerman, Jaap Hage, Stephan Kirste, Anne Ruth Mackor
Place of PublicationCham
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-319-77522-7
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-77521-0
Publication statusPublished - 1-Dec-2018
EventValidity and Public Trust - University of Groningen, Het Kasteel, Melkweg 1, Groningen, Groningen, Netherlands
Duration: 17-Dec-201518-Dec-2015

Publication series

NameLaw and Philosophy Library


ConferenceValidity and Public Trust


  • soft law, public international law, sustainable development, climate law

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