Reflections on a decade of change in international environmental law*
  • 1 Professor of International Environmental Law, University of Oxford, UK
  • | 2 Professor of Law, Melbourne Law School, Australia

This article examines the profound ways in which international environmental law has evolved over the last decade in response to a shifting geopolitical context, as well as a better understanding of the possibilities and limits of global regulation to address complex, polycentric and intractable environmental harms. It identifies as emerging trends in the field the maturation of the customary norms and fundamental principles of international environmental law, in addition to changes in its modes of implementation and the actors involved in those processes. This article also highlights the increasing activity at the interface with other fields of law and policy that has expanded the sites at which international environmental law is made, applied and implemented. It concludes by asking whether this body of international law remains ‘fit for purpose’ as it seeks to adapt to constraints on its nature and operation imposed by the current architecture of international law and politics.

Contributor Notes

This article is adapted from our introduction to the second edition of the Oxford Handbook of International Environmental Law (OUP, Oxford 2021). We are deeply indebted to the authors who contributed thoughtful and scholarly chapters to the Handbook, contributions that have deepened our understanding of the field, and upon which we gratefully build. We are also grateful to Rebekkah Markey-Towler for her excellent assistance with this article.

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