Researchers Contact Information

The Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights
Faculty of Law
P.O. BOX 4
Tel: +358 (0)29 4123140


Manuel Jiménez-Fonseca

Photo by Veikko Somerpuro

Civilizing Nature: International Law and the Environment from a Historical Perspective

In contrast to the general view that international law has only regulated the environment for the last decades, that is, since the emergence of international environmental law, Jimenez’s project rests on the premise that its historical engagement with nature is, in fact, much older. This kind of historical awareness is vital to understand why in spite of numerous global environmental negotiations and the proliferation of international environmental regulations the destruction of the environment continues unabated.

Jimenez examines how European imperialism went hand in hand with the universalization of particular legal economic institutions like private property and international trade that legitimized the privatization and commodification of nature. At the same time, he investigates the presence in the law of nations of a cultural discourse that conceived the exploitation of the environment as a progressive enterprise. The history of the relationship between international law and nature is also the history of how these two separate aspects converged so that European economic institutions became the paradigm of progress conceived and expressed in environmental terms.

This critical reading of the prehistory of international environmental law will lay the ground for a reassessment of sustainable development as the conceptual basis of the contemporary environmental regime.