Locating nature: Making and unmaking international law

Author's Department

Law Department

Find in your Library


Document Type

Research Article

Publication Title

Leiden Journal of International Law

Publication Date





This article explores the relationship between international law and the natural environment. We contend that international environmental law and general international law are structured in ways that systemically reinforce ecological harm. Through exploring the cultural milieu from which international environmental law emerged, we argue it produced an impoverished understanding of nature that is incapable of responding adequately to ecological crises. We maintain that environmental issues should not be confined to a disciplinary specialization because humanity's relationship with nature has been central to making international law. Foundational concepts such as sovereignty, development, property, economy, human rights, and so on, have evolved through understanding nature in ways that are unsuited to perceiving or observing ecological limits. International law primarily sees nature as a resource for wealth generation to enable societies to continually develop, and environmental degradation is treated as an economic externality to be managed by special regimes. Through tracing the co-evolution of these assumptions about nature alongside seminal disciplinary concepts, it becomes evident that such understandings are central to shaping international law and that the discipline helps universalize and normalize them. By comprehending more broadly the relationship between nature and international law, it is possible to see beyond law's potential to correct environmental harm and identify the disciplinary role in driving ecological degradation. Venturing beyond the purview of international environmental lawyers, this article considers the role of all international lawyers in augmenting and mitigating ecological crises. It concludes that disciplinary solutions to environmental problems require radical departures from existing disciplinary tenets, necessitating new formulations that encapsulate rich and diverse understandings of nature. © 2014 Foundation of the Leiden Journal of International Law .

First Page


Last Page


This document is currently not available here.