Beyond "globalization": a call for the reinvention of international environmental law in the 21st century.

Author:Porras, Ileana
Position:International Environmental Law at the Beginning of the 21st Century - Proceedings of the One Hundredth Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law: A Just World Under Law

I would like to begin by proposing that IEL suffers from a foundational problem having been structurally hampered by its birth in the heyday of "globalization" hype. Conventionally, we trace the history of the discipline back to the early 1970s and the Stockholm Declaration. Yet, its flowering really began in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Thus, the discipline came into its own as the cold war ended, and a new cosmopolitan, borderless world beyond the sovereign state could be envisaged. This early, optimistic version of globalization predicted that the global community would rise above its narrow national or local interests. IEL seemed particularly designed to capture the spirit of this new cosmopolitan age, for our environment was a "shared environment" and our world was "one world." Our shared world--captured in iconic form by photographs of planet earth resplendent in all her beauty taken from outer space by Americans--somehow would produce a shared interest and a common ethic as we worked towards shaping "our common future."

Environmentalists emphasized that the environment as a natural phenomenon was beyond national borders, that environmental harm escaped beyond national borders, and that many natural resources were shared. Many critical problems could only be addressed by a common commitment, and environmentalists urgently advocated addressing them today before they created irreparable harms. Protecting the environment and safeguarding our children's future was our common responsibility. It was an appealing image. It is sometimes hard to remember those heady days with ubiquitous images of networked nongovernmental organizations, coalitions of women, indigenous groups, children, and so on, joining hands in pursuit of goals beyond national interest. It was a world beyond politics in which we could imagine a global citizenry adopting environmental protection as a universal goal.

That heady moment is long past. First, a less optimistic view of globalization emerged, one in which the borders were down but the embracing networks were those of corporations and what flowed across was capital and trade. Now, even that image of globalization has begun to recede as we begin to recognize that the sovereign state, its borders, and national interest are still very much a part of our world. Today, we no longer talk so glibly of "our common future" as we observe the world sinking ever further into deep divisions between the haves and the have-nots...

To continue reading