"Sustainability" may be generally defined as the task of meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
Sustainability law is a new field of law bridging public law and private and commercial law, dealing with enactments and rules promoting sustainability and laws having the potential effects of promoting sustainability or sanctioning activities detrimental thereto.
By "sustainability laws" we include both international treaties and national or supra-national laws. The introduction of this field of law is meant to signify and acknowledge that we are facing an emerging field of new laws reflecting high regulatory ambitions, in particular in the EU. Environmental issues are high on the agenda, in particular global, regional and local initiatives to combat climate change. Acknowledging the connectivity of matters, sustainability law transgresses the more established environmental law focus on physical impacts on nature, by including a wide range of economic activities in finance, technology and services that have a limited direct physical impact on the environment, but have the potential for significant indirect effects. Significant legal tools are now directed not at the environmental base, but at the ideological superstructure represented by international finance.
Sustainability law is inter-disciplinary and transgressive also in its demand for sustainability to be integrated in all economic activities, bridging financial, scientific and legal perspectives on how to develop a green economy. Of particular importance is the EU's preference for a market-based and incentivising approach rather than a direct and prescriptive approach, reflected in the Financial Action Plan and the older system of carbon taxation with tradable decreasing permits. This brings sustainability law deep into commercial law and commercial activities of relevance to most sectors of the economy. If successful, it may also give evidence to a market-based approach as more effective than a prescriptive mode of regulation.