Bridging the North-South Divide: International Environmental Law in the Anthropocene

29 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2015 Last revised: 8 Aug 2016

See all articles by Carmen G. Gonzalez

Carmen G. Gonzalez

Loyola University Chicago School of Law

Date Written: October 10, 2015


The failure of international law and institutions to address global environmental degradation has significant implications for law and society as the planet’s ecosystems approach irreversible tipping points. According to a recent study published in the journal Science, the global economy has transgressed four of the nine “planetary boundaries” critical to the planet’s self-regulating capacity. Climate change, deforestation, species extinction, and the runoff of phosphorus and nitrogen into regional watersheds and oceans have exceeded safe biophysical thresholds. Scientists refer to the current geologic era of human-induced environmental change as the Anthropocene.

These environmental problems are inextricably intertwined with patterns of trade, finance, investment, and production that have created an enormous and growing economic gap between and within affluent and poor countries -- the global North and the global South. Grounded in colonialism, these North-South divisions have often paralyzed international law-making, resulting in deadlocks in environmental treaty negotiations and agreements characterized by ambiguity, lack of ambition, and inadequate compliance and enforcement mechanisms. International environmental law is a field in crisis because the problems it currently confronts are deeply embedded in the existing economic order and cannot be adequately addressed by simply tinkering on the margins.

This article examines the North-South divide in international environmental law and offers several strategies to bridge the divide and create a more just and sustainable economic order grounded in a robust conception of environmental justice.

Keywords: international environmental law, environmental justice, sustainable development, Anthropocene, food justice, energy justice, climate change, rights of Nature, intra-generational justice, inter-generational justice, North-South divide, trade and the environment, human rights

JEL Classification: K32, K33, K190, N05, O13, O19, Q01, Q56

Suggested Citation

Gonzalez, Carmen G., Bridging the North-South Divide: International Environmental Law in the Anthropocene (October 10, 2015). Pace Environmental Law (PELR) Review, Vol. 32, p. 407, 2015, Seattle University School of Law Research Paper No. 16-02, Available at SSRN:

Carmen G. Gonzalez (Contact Author)

Loyola University Chicago School of Law ( email )

25 E. Pearson
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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