Since the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Environment and Development, international environmental law has continued to evolve at a remarkable pace. A number of treaties have been adopted to address environmental problems, including climate change, ozone depletion and biodiversity loss. In total, there are more than 3,000 multilateral environmental agreements in force. Their governing bodies have adopted thousands of decisions and created numerous sub-processes and -bodies, giving birth to an extensive and complex specialised area of international law.
However, the impressive expansion of international environmental law has not necessarily led to improvements in the state of the global environment. The international climate regime illustrates starkly the effective limitations of international law-making with respect to human and environmental health protection. Nearly three decades after its creation, the UN climate regime has yet to succeed in halting the growth of global greenhouse gas emissions. On the contrary, it seems that climate change is happening much faster than previously estimated. Similarly, the world’s biodiversity continues to decline at an alarming pace despite several treaties and multiple soft law instruments adopted under the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity. The situation is no less daunting with respect to chemical pollution, a global phenomenon on the continuous rise that has proven impossible to address cogently under the existing cluster of international environmental agreements devised to regulate transboundary movements of hazardous chemicals and wastes. Indeed, one of the few successful international environmental instruments seems to be the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer with recent scientific evidence showing that the ozone layer has started to recover due to controls on harmful substances introduced by the Protocol.
While international environmental lawyers are well aware of these challenges, the main solutions they are capable of offering tend to be procedural ones: new negotiations leading to new instruments, institutions, rules and processes. These tend to be legally sophisticated and complex, but their environmental effectiveness often remains questionable. The international climate regime is a good example. Since 2007, there have been several negotiating processes tasked with producing an adequate global response to the looming climate crisis. However, even the 2015 Paris Agreement falls manifestly short in this regard. While its goals are ambitious, it has deferred some of the most critical issues of climate change mitigation and climate finance to further negotiations - to be resolved another time, somewhere else. And while certainly innovative for an environmental treaty in its explicit attention to human rights and indigenous rights, the Paris Agreement’s attempt to create a bridge between these fragmented fields of international law rests in its preamble, providing relatively little insight on the legal operationality of such a task.
The shared limitations of diverse branches of international environmental law, from climate change to chemicals, compel further reflection on the overarching legal field, with a view to understanding whether the preferred modus operandi of international environmental law, as reflected in its common legal forms, framings and institutional structures, is capacious enough to respond effectively to the massive environmental and human health crisis that fatally grips the contemporary life space, from a molecular to global level.
The 31st Helsinki Summer Seminar on International Law seeks to address some fundamental questions of international environmental law with an emphasis on a critical theoretical perspective. Embracing the intellectual diversity of critical legal approaches and their application to the field of international environmental law, the seminar encourages international environmental law scholars to unlearn pragmatic, instrumentalist or functionalist ways of doing international environmental law, and instead, to take distance or a step backwards in constituting the field, to reveal the underlying structures of social, cultural, political, geographical, historical and legal relations that shape, constrain and influence the epistemological and ontological contours, or boundaries of international environmental law.
The 31st Helsinki Summer Seminar on International Law will be organized jointly by the Erik Castrén Institute for International Law and Human Rights and the UEF Law School, in cooperation with the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Confirmed Speakers include:
Professor Michael Mehling, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Professor Karin Mickelson, Peter A. Allard School of Law, the University of British Columbia
Professor Jorge E. Viñuales, University of Cambridge
Professor Harro van Asselt, UEF Law School
Professor Kati Kulovesi, UEF Law School
Dr Sabaa Khan, UEF Law School
Outi Penttilä, University of Helsinki
Professor Martti Koskenniemi, University of Helsinki
Professor Jan Klabbers, University of Helsinki
The recording of the discussion between Professor Martti Koskenniemi and Professor Viñuales can be found here!