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Part III Regimes and Doctrines, Ch.39 Theorizing International Environmental Law

Stephen Humphreys, Yoriko Otomo

From: The Oxford Handbook of the Theory of International Law

Edited By: Anne Orford, Florian Hoffmann

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved.date: 19 June 2024

Human rights remedies — Climate change — Environmental disputes — General principles of international law — Sources of international law — Private international law

This chapter opens up some new theoretical perspectives on environmental law, which has surprisingly been subjected to little theoretical speculation. International environmental law is generally characterized as quintessential ‘soft law’: general principles and aspirational treaties with weak or exhortatory compliance mechanisms, often dependent on other disciplines altogether—science and economics—for direction and legitimacy. At the same time, the problems it is called upon to deal with are immense, frequently catastrophic, and global in nature: climate change, species extinction, increasing desert, disappearing rainforest. To rectify this, the chapter delves into a question of terminology—why ‘international environmental law’?—before exploring its Romantic and colonial origins and concluding with how international environmental law’s origins in the confluence of the Romantic and the colonial explains the apparent mismatch between its ambitious stated objectives and its muted regulatory provisions—and how this tension continues to inform its functioning today.

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