This month we are happy to highlight the amazing work of Dr Emily Jones.

Dr Jones is a Lecturer in the School of Law and Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex in the UK. She is a generalist public international lawyer whose interdisciplinary work combines theory and practice. Her work cuts across: international environmental law; gender and international law; the law of the sea; science, technology and international law; posthuman legal theory; gender and conflict; and political economy, imperialism and international law. Within these areas her current work focuses on the rights of nature, gender and the environment, and the regulation of deep-sea mining, of greenhouse gas removal and of military technologies (including autonomous weapons systems and human enhancement technologies). 

  1. What led you to work on human rights and the environment? 

I have long been interested in environmental issues – ever since I was a child and decided to go vegetarian at around aged 6, despite my parent’s despair – but my focus on human rights and the environment came from me discovering first, posthuman feminist theory and later, the recognition of the rights of nature.

Posthuman feminism sits at the convergence between post-humanism and post-anthropocentrism, and explicitly seeks to dismantle hierarchies between humans, such as gender, race and class, as well as to dismantle the idea that the human sits in hierarchical supremacy over other subjects— including the environment and non-human subjects (for more on this theory, see Rosi Braidotti’s forthcoming book). This theory spoke to me precisely because it calls into question, not only intersectional gendered hierarchies but also human and non-human relationships and hierarchies.

Posthuman feminism and the rights of nature spoke to me in different ways, but both also seemed to speak to the other. Posthuman feminism, after all, seeks to challenge anthropocentrism, with some strands seeking to understand the agency of matter, of the environment itself. The recognition of the rights of nature, to me, seemed to be undertaking a similar shift through the law. This was my entry point into human rights and the environment – I wanted to think through and help foster the recognition of nature’s agency in law and I also wanted to show the ways in which gender theories, and posthuman feminism in particular, could help think through this emerging shift.

2. What have you have been working on recently and/or what is your next big project? 

What I really need to do next is sit down and focus on my monograph! It will be titled Feminist Theory and International Law: Posthuman Perspectives and is forthcoming with Routledge’s Glasshouse series. In it, I apply posthuman feminist theory to various key topics in international law, from the role of the corporation, to the concept of the State, to the regulation of autonomous weapons systems, to International Environmental Law. I am currently working on applying feminist and queer theories to International Environmental Law and thinking through the links between them and the rights of nature – so all of that will appear in that book!

More broadly, I want to develop my work on the rights of nature further. I recently finished an article for a special issue on Posthuman Legalities forthcoming with the Journal of Human Rights and the Environment on ‘Posthuman International Law and the Rights of Nature.’ In it, I draw on posthuman theory and existing rights of nature provisions to begin to think through setting global rights of nature standards. This is really where I want to go with my work next. While the rights of nature have been recognised in many domestic jurisdictions, these provisions all differ quite a bit. The next step in this field, I believe, will be thinking through the setting of global standards. I think this will need to be done through applying standards to particular contexts, as this will allow for the details to really be worked out as applied.

Given this, I have started working on how the rights of nature could help regulate deep-sea mining. I am in the very early stages of this work but deep-sea mining is a good context through which to try and set global rights of nature standards for many reasons. For one, deep-sea mining will predominately occur in international waters i.e. territory held in common by all. This context thereby inherently calls into question humanity’s shared responsibility to protect nature. In addition, despite the many warnings of the risks of deep-sea mining, it looks likely that extraction will be authorised in the next few years. The existing legal framework is inadequate and does not (and cannot) fully consider the environmental risks being posed. A rights of nature approach, I believe, may provide a new and much-needed alternative vision of the law.

3. Which scholars, writers, or activists do you think are not getting the attention they should be getting? 

I think all scholars, writers and activists working on environmental issues are not getting enough attention. This is changing, with many fantastic younger people leading the way, yet much more needs to be done.

More specifically, I think the voices of Indigenous scholars and activists need to be amplified much further. There is so much knowledge which has, for centuries, been ignored and silenced. There is some fantastic work going on, for example, in Australia around indigenous knowledge as applied to water resource management. There is a need to listen, to learn and to amplify these voices globally.

It also cannot be forgotten that, while Indigenous peoples have not been involved in all instances of the recognition of the rights of nature and not all Indigenous peoples support the recognition of the rights of nature, many Indigenous people’s worldviews helped instigate and have shaped this emerging movement. For me, the rights of nature represents a key shift in re-thinking environmental law and it is no coincidence that Indigenous peoples have played such a vital role in the movement.

4. As briefly but as specifically as you can say, what the most compelling challenges in HR & E right now? Can you briefly describe any proposed solutions? 

I think one of the core challenges which needs to be tackled next is the anthropocentrism which continues to permeate human rights and the environment as a field (and environmental law more generally). Human rights are, as the name suggests, primarily about human interests. However, this model risks perpetuating the idea that human interests matter most and that the environment and non-humans are mere objects to be exploited for those interests. This needs to be challenged and a greater focus on the connections and relationships between humans, non-humans and environments is required. We urgently need to challenge the anthropocentric ideas which underly our legal systems and start thinking differently. For me, the recognition of the rights of nature represents the most promising existing paradigm through which that can be done, though the effectiveness of the recognition of these rights will depend on the strength of the standards set.

I am also particularly concerned about emerging geoengineering industries and the lack of focus on these industries both in terms of scholarship and practice within human rights and the environment. Geoengineering is increasingly being discussed as a solution to climate change. There are many forms of geoengineering, yet solar radiation management seems to get most of the attention. In the meantime, other, more viable forms of geoengineering – mostly various carbon removal techniques – are beginning to be seriously discussed and, in some instances, used. There is a lack of discussion of these topics from the perspective of rights – be they human rights or nature rights.

The fragmentation of international environmental law is another core issue. So many interlinking issues are dealt with separately due to this fragmentation e.g. ocean governance and the law of the sea is seen as distinct from human rights and the environment, which is then treated differently to issues around biodiversity etc. I am hopeful that the ongoing discussions in the aim of drafting a Global Pact for the Environment may address some of these issues. I am also hopeful that the Pact may recognise a global right to a healthy environment – that would be a ground-breaking step in the right direction.

Finally, there is a continued lack of attention on the intersectional impacts of environmental degradation. This includes a lack of focus on the ways environmental damage may impact on racialised communities, people in the Global South, disabled people, working class people, women, queer people etc. While more work on these issues is emerging, more is still needed. In fact, I think everyone needs to have this at the forefront of their minds whenever they are doing any kind of research in this area.