Environmental law's extinction problem

Afshin Akhtar-Khavari*, Michelle Lim, Katie Woolaston

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The extinction of species and ecological systems is occurring more quickly than any other time in human history. Our social and cultural institutions and the concepts and framings that underpin them are key contributors to modern extinctions. In this paper we ask how engaging explicitly with extinction enables a critical and hopeful rethinking of environmental law. We explore the potential of this question by summarising and categorising the literature that discusses how extinction provides a useful frame and moral compass for interrogating environmental law rules, systems and ambitions. Through an evaluation of biodiversity-related multilateral environmental agreements we illustrate the potential of our approach. We demonstrate that if law is to effectively address mass extinction then we need to also interrogate the values and worldviews perpetuated by existing and potential future legal instruments. Drawing on the papers from this special issue we argue that there is much scope for scholarship to develop critical and hopeful approaches for environmental law to address the ecological, social and ethical challenges of extinction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)493-512
Number of pages20
JournalGriffith Law Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • biodiversity
  • critical environmental law
  • extinction
  • hope
  • human-nature relationship


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