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date: 06 December 2019

Abstract and Keywords

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.

Keywords: Environmental disputes, Climate change, General principles of international law, human rights remedies, Sources of international law, Private international law

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