Book Review: Dictionary of Environmental and Climate Change Law

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Robinson, Nicholas, Xi, Wang, Harmon, Li, & Wegmueller, Sarah. Dictionary of Environmental and Climate Change Law. Massachusetts: Edward Elgar, 2013. 293 p. Hardcover. $165.00. 

This dictionary is the result of a two-year research program involving scholars and post-graduate students at Pace Law School with the cooperation of faculty of law at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China.  Professor Nicholas Robinson of Pace Law School and Professor Wang Xi of Shanghai Jiao Tao spearheaded the work on this dictionary.  Inconsistencies in the usage of environmental law terminology, the rapid development of this field of law, and the difficulty understanding some of the complex terminology used in environmental law formed some of the justification for producing a dictionary in this specific area of law.  If you have attorneys who practice environmental law, or offer classes in environmental law, I would recommend purchasing a copy. 

The editors used several sources of law to compile the terms provided in the dictionary.  Professors and academics at Shanghai Jiao Tao identified terms in Mandarin with no readily available definition.  Terms defined in agreements ratified by the United States and China were also compiled.  Official definitions used by the Environmental Protection Agency and other U.S. agencies, which could be compared to enacted Chinese regulations were also noted.  Finally, terms normally used by United Nations Environment Programme or expert bodies were also noted. 

The dictionary provides the definitions of terms in English as well as the comparable Chinese Mandarin word and the Pinyin anglicized version of the word.  The dictionary ranges from A Horizon (A céng, fǔ zhí duī jī céng) to Zoning Map (qū yù huà fēn tú).  Most terms use and are derived from American English.  However, terms gathered from official organizations that use British English maintain the British spellings. Many definitions also contain a short citation to the source used to define that term.  These short citations, along with the full citation, are also included in the back of the book for purposes of further study.  Many of these resources are websites, and understanding the changeability of the internet, the editors provided the date of access to the website.  Most of these websites were last accessed in May 2012. 

The addition of the Chinese equivalent of the terms as well as the pinyin translation makes this dictionary extremely valuable.  Over the past few years I have seen an increase in the number of Chinese students enrolled at the law school where I work (particularly in the LL.M. program).  There are many different ways to define terms because there are so many different dialects of Chinese.  The fact that this book provides the term in Mandarin as well as in Pinyin at least provides Chinese speakers with the ability to look up the correct term in a Chinese-English dictionary if he/she cannot read and comprehend English.

The highly technical and scientific nature of environmental law makes some aspects of it confusing to grasp to those without a scientific background.  This dictionary allows a layman to parse through those hard to understand concepts in environmental law.  It also serves as a great resource for those who practice or study environmental law and need a single, easy-to-use ready reference tool.

Deborah Heller is a reference librarian and lecturer-in-law at Arthur W. Diamond Law Library, Columbia Law School.

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