UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Liberal environmentalism and the international law of hazardous chemicals Barrios, Paula


This study looks at the role that liberal economic norms are playing in international environmental negotiations on hazardous chemicals (including wastes), and the implications of these norms for the protection of the environment and human health from the thousands of chemicals on the market. The key trait of liberal economic norms in relation to global environmental governance is their assumption that the liberalisation of trade and finance and economic growth are both consistent with and necessary for environmental protection. From this assumption follows, for instance, the idea that states should adopt the "least-trade restrictive" measures required to protect the environment and human health. I argue that liberal economic norms are "hegemonic," in a Gramscian sense, in chemicals-related international environmental negotiations. This means that a wide range of actors, including those that do not necessarily accept the liberal economic perspective, are upholding liberal economic norms in their statements and proposals if not out of conviction then out of a perceived need to be realistic or persuasive. The most important implication of liberal economic hegemony is that it is widely assumed that human health and the environment can be effectively protected from the negative effects of hazardous chemicals even though the volume of chemicals and chemical-containing products being consumed is increasing at a spectacular rate. The issue of growing consumption of chemicals is therefore consistently framed as a problem of quality (hazardousness) rather than quantity. To understand consumption in this narrow sense is problematic, however, because there is considerable scientific uncertainty concerning the environmental and health effects of most of the chemicals on the market and because chemicals that pose minimal risks to the environment and human health might be very hazardous when they are being manufactured or upon becoming waste. In order to address the problem of hazardous chemicals effectively, it is necessary to challenge the hegemony of liberal economic norms in international environmental negotiations. This can be done, I conclude, by deepening a number of fissures in the hegemony of the liberal economic perspective that can be detected in the context of chemicals-related instruments.

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