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CILHR Speaker Series: "International Environmental Law 1902-1972: Environmentalism, Empire, and the Civilising Mission" Dr. Mario Prost, Keel University

Date: 20 May 2014 Time: 12-1pm

Venue: Bowland North SR2

The Centre for International Law and Human Rights would like to invite staff and students to the next installment of its speaker series covering the latest legal issues.

The field of international environmental law is often (self-)described as one of the youngest, most dynamic and most progressive branches of international law. Unlike other disciplines like trade law or human rights law, which are perceived as tainted by international law's imperial past or by ideology, international environmental law is portrayed as a technical, forward looking discipline that emerged in the post-colonial era and seeks to keep humanity's excesses in check for the benefit of future generations. While sites of critique exist, these are for the most part limited to effectiveness arguments: now that international standards have been established, they must be made more effective and those responsible for environmental harm must be held to account. These limited critiques aside, however, international environmental law remains a largely uncritical and self-satisfied discipline, content with its past achievements and confident that it represents the best hope to save the planet. What is missing from this conventional narrative are international environmental law's ambiguities and its possible complicities in injustice, past and present. In particular, the accepted history of international environmental law suppresses the role that international law in general and international environmental law in particular have played in the exploitation of colonial territories by imperial powers. The predominantly ahistorical and technocratic discourse of international environmental law overlooks or marginalises colonialism as a thing of the past that is essentially irrelevant to the discipline. Against this assumption, this paper argues that the colonial experience has in fact been central to the formation of Western environmental attitudes and to the early history of international environmental law. It seeks to show that, paradoxically, environmentalism emerged both as a critique of and as a justification for Europe's civilising mission in the colonies. Equally, early international environmental agreements have served both as instruments of environmental protection and as vehicles for the projection of Western values and economic interests onto non-European territories. The present paper calls for a re-writing of this ambivalent history into the discipline of international environmental law and pleads for a culture of caution rather than triumphalism.

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