International Environmental Law and the North-South Divide

Course Description: 

Elective course

The unprecedented degradation of the planet’s ecosystems is one of the most pressing challenges confronting the international community. Despite the proliferation of legal and policy initiatives to protect the environment, conflicts between affluent and poor countries (the North-South divide) have derailed international cooperation, producing deadlocks in environmental treaty negotiations and non-compliance with existing agreements. Environmental degradation threatens fundamental human rights (including the rights to life, health, food, and water), and is a major obstacle to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015.

This course examines the historical origins of the North-South divide in European colonialism and its contemporary manifestations in a range of issues related to international environmental law and policy (including climate change, human rights, trade, investment, food justice, energy justice, and water justice).   The course will consider how international environmental law and policy might bridge the North-South divide and promote the transition to a more just and sustainable society.

For the syllabus, please visit the e-learning site. You may find the course schedule here

Learning Outcomes: 

Students who take this course should be able to:

  • Identify a variety of international environmental problems, explain their underlying causes, and analyze their impacts on vulnerable states and communities
  • Explain the sources of international environmental law, particularly treaties and principles
  • Apply these treaties and principles to particular environmental problems
  • Articulate the tensions between Northern priorities and Southern goals and aspirations in various areas of international law and policy
  • Discuss with depth and expertise the North-South divide in an area of international environmental law and policy of particular interest to the student

Class participation is essential to the success of this course.  Students will be assessed as follows:

  • Class participation (including assigned presentations): 50 percent of final grade
  • 5000-6000 word research paper (due last day of class): 50 percent of final grade

There are no prerequisites for this course.  Students interested in human rights, social justice, sustainable development, and environmental politics are encouraged to take this course.