Environment, representation, rights


Earth Systems Governance Representations of and Rights for the Environment Workgroup


The ESGRREW will investigate the conceptual framework and building blocks of international environmental law and governance: the human-nature relationship, the representations of the environment embedded within global cultures, and the establishment of environmental rights. Does this current framework allow the expression and representation of the various legal and cultural traditions, as well as effective environmental justice?  Can we establish a common or articulated understanding of the rights of the natural environment as the foundation of a more just, operative, and universally applicable form of earth system governance? This entails discussions about how the environment is represented in our cultures and polities, and a reflexion on the practical implications of its legal representation on the domestic and international levels.

Picture_ESGRREWThis is at heart a reflexive and pragmatic exercise, which intends to foster a dynamic of critical analysis and intercultural dialogue, with a problem solving approach. It will include empirical studies of legal texts and processes, and cultural surveys. Environmental ethics are part of the evolution of domestic and international environmental law, and this workgroup will strive to create a plan of action that involves the promotion of attendant necessities such as political will, enforcement mechanisms, widening participation, and sharing of responsibility. But, there are other obstacles related to enforcement, at the root of legal and political concepts – which, for instance, do not allow us to address effectively the rights of animals, rivers, oceans, forests or ecosystems, or to deal with the specificities of the relations between communities and their environment. This is a critical point from the perspective of Earth System Governance.

The way we conceive of and represent our environment determines our relation to it and the concepts used to deal with it. In that light, the legal and political tools designed to address the protection of the environment and human rights are based upon concepts and representations with ontological and epistemological foundations which demarcate and designate the known and inhabited world, as well as the (static, evolving, revolutionary) relationship between humankind and the environment. Sociologists, anthropologists, ethicists, and political theorists have highlighted the distinction between the environment as comprehended by science and the environment as it is conceived in a specific culture and legal system. Envisaging a sustainable Earth System Governance requires taking into account, reconciling and articulating those approaches, while maintaining respect for the diversity of worldviews across regions, religions, and communities.

ESGRREW Challenges

1) Identifying the human-nature relationships inherent in global cultures and their interplay with each other and the legal systems (including the international legal system) and other articulations of governance.

2) Addressing the governance gap, including the challenge of developing a general approach to environmental management (global/local) which recognizes that environmental values are cultural values that are constructed from a given perspective in space and time.

3) Working conceptually on a concurrent triscalar system: local rules, ecological community, global scale.

4) Addressing the implementation gap: the challenge of implementing international policies and norms; role of concepts/definitions of environmental objects/subjects and their rights within the triscalar framework.

The ESGRREW Themes

The working group focuses on the question of representations (scientific, legal, political, philosophical and cultural) of the environment and our relations to it, the impact of these conceptualizations on designing and implementing environmental policies, and ways we can move toward more commonly accepted understandings on a global scale. Some of the themes to be raised in specific webinars and workshops will include:

  • the evolution and critique of the concept of environment in relation to Earth System Governance;
  • the contribution of the various cultural and legal systems (Chinese, Japanese, Indian, etc.) to the understanding and designing of Earth System Governance;
  • the different social/cultural representations of the environment and the challenge/prospect of a global approach to climate change and sustainable development;
  • the multidisciplinary understanding of environment and the articulation of scientific methodologies/discourses with cultural and social sciences approaches/methodologies/discourses on the environment;
  • the designation and status of a variety of social and natural subjects of policies/regulations (animals, biological diversity, ecosystem, rivers, lakes, seas forests, etc.), and the implementation of international law, norms, and policies;
  • the notion of global interoperability of concepts/approaches of the environment, effectiveness/implementation of norms and policies.


Prof. Peter Stoett
Loyola Sustainability Research Centre, Concordia University, Montreal

Dr. Sandy Lamalle
Loyola Sustainability Research Centre, Concordia University, Montreal

e-mail: contact@esgrrew.com

Related Literature


Politics and Governance

Bierman (2014). ‘Global Governance and the Environment’ in M. M. Betsill, K. Hochstetler, D. Stevis (eds). Advances in International Environmental Politics. Palsgrave Macmillan. 245-272.

J. Stoett (2012). Global Ecopolitics – Crisis, Governance and Justice. University of Toronto Press.

Law and Governance

F. C. DiMento (2003). The Global Environment and International Law. University of Texas Press.

Jessup, K. Rubinstein (2012). Environmental Discourses in Public and International Law. Cambridge UP.


B.G. Norton and B. Hannon (1997). ‘General Approach to Environmental Management Based on a ‘Sense of Place’. Environmental Ethics. Vol. 19, 227-245 (in the Earthscan Reader in Environmental Values, L. Kalof and T. Satterfield (eds), Bath Press: UK (2005))

J. Stoett, E. Laferriere (1999). International Relations Theory and Ecological Thought: Towards a Synthesis. London:Routledge.

Wapner (2012), ‘After Nature: Environmental Politics in a Postmodern Age’, Handbook of Global Environmental Politics, P. Dauvergne (ed), Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK, Northampton, MA, USA 2012, 431-442.


Okeke, M. Charlesworth (2014). ‘Environmental and Ecological Justice’ in M. M. Betsill, K. Hochstetler, D. Stevis (eds). Advances in International Environmental Politics. Palsgrave Macmillan. 328-355.

Schlosberg. (2007). Defining Environmental Justice: Theories, Movements, and Nature. Oxford UP.


United Nations

Report of the UNSG (2010) A/65/314, and UNGA Resolution (2011) ‘Harmony with Nature’. A/RES/65/164

UNGA Resolution ‘Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ (2015) A/RES/70/1

UNGA Resolution ‘The Future We Want’ (2012) A/RES/66/288

UNGA Resolution ‘World Charter for Nature’ (1982). A/RES/37/7

International Law

Birnie, A. Boyle and C. Redgwell. (2009). International Law and the Environment. Oxford: Oxford UP.

L. Boisson de Chazournes, V. Gowlland-Debbas (2001). The International Legal System in Quest of Equity and Universality. Liber amicorum Georges Abi-Saab. The Hague. Martinus Nijhoff.

Ph. Sands, J. Peel (2012). Principles of International Environmental Law. Cambridge UP.


D.G. Victor, K. Raustiala, E.B. Skolnikoff, eds (1998). The Implementation and Effectiveness of International Environmental Commitments: Theory and Practice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

O. Young (2011). Effectiveness of International Environmental Regimes: Existing Knowledge, Cutting-edge Themes, and Research Strategies. Edited by William C. Clark, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.


Coyle, K. Morrow (2004). Philosophical Foundations of Environmental Law. Hart.

Humphreys, Y. Otomo (2014). Theorising International Environmental Law. The Oxford Handbook of International Legal Theory. F. Hoffmann, A. Orford (eds) Oxford UP.



Lövbrand (2014). ‘Knowledge and the Environment’, in M. M. Betsill, K. Hochstetler, D. Stevis (eds) Advances in International Environmental Politics. Palsgrave Macmillan. 161-184

Proceedings of the International Conference (2004) ‘Bridging Scales and Epistemologies: Linking Local Knowledge and Global Science in Multi-Scale Assessments’. Alexandria, Egypt. Millenium Ecosytem Assessment. http://www.millenniumassessment.org/en/Bridging.Proceedings.html


Bäckstrand, J. Khan, A. Kronsell, E. Lövbrand (eds). (2010). ‘Environmental Politics and Deliberative Democracy: Examining the Promise of New Modes of Governance’. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Jasanoff, M. Long-Martello (2004). Earthly Politics. Local and Global in Environmental Governance (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press).

Roué, D. Nakashima. (2002). Indigenous Knowledge, Peoples and Sustainable Practice. P. Timmerman (ed.), Social and Economic Dimensions of Global Environmental Change (Vol. 5 of T. Munn [ed.], Encyclopedia of Global Environmental Change). Chichester, Wiley. 314–24.


Burdon (2010). ‘Wild Law: The philosophy of Earth Jurisprudence’ 35/2 Alternative Law Journal

Cullinan. If Nature Had Rights

Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth, April 22, 2010

World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, Cochabamba, Bolivia

Further sources:

Earth Jurisprudence – Earth Law: http://www.gaiafoundation.org/earth-centred-law

The Rights of Nature: http://therightsofnature.org/

Legal Pluralism

M. Bavinck and J. Gupta (eds). (2014). Sustainability Science – Legal P Towards an Elaborated Theory of Legal Pluralism and Aquatic Resources. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 11, 86-93. doi: 10.1016/

Lamalle (2014). ‘Multilevel Translation Analysis of a Key Legal Concept: Persona Juris and Legal Pluralism’. in A. Wagner, K.K. Sui, C. Le, Handbook on Legal Translation. Ashgate.