This article argues that our overly state-centric approach to international environmental law limits the law’s effectiveness in addressing the complex environmental challenges of the Anthropocene. The sources of international environmental law are designed for State-to-State disputes, even though such disputes are rare and do not reflect the nature of most global environmental challenges. The focus of international environmental law has been State responsibility, even though the primary actors of environmental deterioration are not States. Nor has international environmental law focused on individual rights, even though individuals and local communities disproportionately bear the burden of environmental decisions and have the strongest motivation to ensure action is taken. In the future, we should embrace a less State-centric approach to international environmental law—one that incorporates more directly the diversity of actors, contexts and legal norms that are currently involved in protecting the world’s environment. Such a reorientation could enable a rights-based approach that better reflects the realities of ecological limits and holds non-state beneficiaries of pollution and resource exploitation more directly accountable in a wider range of contexts.
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