To exploit or not to exploit: The structure and development of arguments over the use of wetlands

Tiina Korvela

Abstract

This paper considers the discourse surrounding the exploitation of wetlands (also called marshlands, bogs, mires and peatlands) in Finland. The focus of the paper is on the development of the arguments used in the discourse – thus the paper also gives an insight into how the legal regimes concerning wetlands have developed. The arguments are analysed using the dualistic and deconstructive model developed in Critical Legal Studies by Martti Koskenniemi. The hypothesis is that, to some extent, the model developed for international law can be adapted to fit national laws, but that significant problems may still arise.

Throughout the history of discourse on wetlands, legal arguments have essentially dealt with the conflict between the conservation of wetlands or their exploitation for peat, which is a source of energy. Three arguments are discussed in this paper: 1) The ‘sovereignty argument’; 2) The ‘no harm argument’; and 3) The ‘climate change argument’.

The sovereignty argument has been dominant from the beginning of the industrialised production of peat, but the no harm argument has been steadily gaining weight. Interestingly, the climate change argument lacks traction in the discourse even though the importance of wetlands in adaptation to climate change is common knowledge. This paper argues that regional and national authorities use legislation and the no harm argument in innovative ways. These innovations may be useful for the aims underlying the climate change argument.

Keywords

critical legal studies; peatlands; Finland

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