Theorising International Environmental Law

The Oxford Handbook of International Legal Theory (Florian Hoffmann and Anne Orford, eds, Oxford UP, 2014, Forthcoming)

LSE Legal Studies Working Paper No. 9/2014

29 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2014 Last revised: 12 Jun 2014

Stephen Humphreys

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)

Yoriko Otomo

SOAS, University of London

Date Written: February 10, 2014

Abstract

This paper, part of a larger work on international law theory, sketches some early lines of inquiry towards a theoretical understanding of international environmental law.

As the body of international law regulating human interaction with the natural world, one might expect this branch of law to be a cornerstone of the international system. Yet in practice, international environmental law’s reach is strikingly circumscribed. Little of the governance of natural resources, for example, is ‘environmental’. Subsisting at the periphery, environmental law focuses on conserving particular (rare, exotic) species and ‘ecosystems’, and curbing certain kinds of pollution. Its principles are vague, peppering the margins of rulings within other judicial fora: it is quintessential soft law.

In this paper, we suggest that international environmental law’s dilemmas are due to two competing heritages. On one hand, this law enshrines the peculiar pantheism of the European romantic period, positing the ‘natural world’ as sacred, inviolable, redemptive. On the other, its main antecedents are found in colonial era practices, which provided the data for the earliest environmental science and a laboratory for prototypical attempts at conservation and sustainable development. Caught between irreconcilable demands, international environmental law struggles today to avoid utopian irrelevance or nugatory paralysis.

Suggested Citation

Humphreys, Stephen and Otomo, Yoriko, Theorising International Environmental Law (February 10, 2014). The Oxford Handbook of International Legal Theory (Florian Hoffmann and Anne Orford, eds, Oxford UP, 2014, Forthcoming); LSE Legal Studies Working Paper No. 9/2014. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2385836 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2385836

Stephen Humphreys (Contact Author)

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

Yoriko Otomo

SOAS, University of London ( email )

Thornhaugh Street
Russell Square: College Buildings 541
London, WC1H 0XG
United Kingdom

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