Achinthi Vithanage

Portrait of Achinthi Vithanage
Randolph C, Shaw Graduate Fellow in Administrative Law; Professorial Lecturer in Law
2000 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052
[email protected]

Achinthi Vithanage joined the George Washington University Law School in July 2018 as the first Environmental and Energy Law Fellow with an international law background. She is an admitted solicitor of the state of New South Wales (NSW) in Australia and immediately prior to joining GW Law, was a merit scholarship recipient at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University. She was born in Sri Lanka, lived in the United Arab Emirates, practiced as an attorney in Australia, and undertook tertiary studies in Australia, Japan, China, Spain, and the United States, providing her a unique international perspective.

Her interest in international environmental law and energy law and policy began early in her tertiary studies, through employment at the NSW Energy & Water Ombudsman, a government-approved industry-based independent body which monitors the state’s water and energy industries. She also spent an exchange year at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan, under a Japan Student Services Organization scholarship, completing interdisciplinary courses on environmental science and global environmental politics and policies. She completed her undergraduate combined degree of Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of International Studies at the University of NSW, Sydney. Her article "Marine Protected Areas: The Chagos Case and The Need to Marry International Environmental Law with Indigenous Rights," which she wrote during her undergraduate degree, was subsequently published in the 2012 edition of Brill's Yearbook of Polar Law.

Following her admission, Ms. Vithanage practiced mostly in the commercial and property law fields for almost five years. She joined the Law Society of NSW Young Lawyers in 2012, and was elected Chair of the International Law Committee in 2015. During her two-year tenure, she endeavored to bring issues of international environmental law into the spotlight.

Ms. Vithanage has acquired a wealth of environmental law experience since her arrival in the United States. She undertook the United Nations practicum on environmental diplomacy at the Permanent Mission to Sri Lanka; published articles in the American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources' Natural Resources & Environment; presented on "Utilizing Marine Protected Areas to Facilitate Climate Change Adaptation: Tales from the Pacific," at the Pacific Climate Change conference in New Zealand with Pace University's sponsorship; presented at the International Union for Conservation of Nature Colloquium in Glasgow, Scotland; and was invited as a panelist to Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University's Energy Water Food & Nexus International summit, presenting on climate change adaptation-based food security policy in the Pacific Islands, and to a side event to the United Nations High Level Political Forum on SDG 7 Energy. More recently, she was invited to speak at the 2nd World Environmental Law Congress in Brazil and participate as a panelist in a side event to the IUCN World Conservation Congress in France. She has presented papers at the Vermont Colloquium for Environmental Scholarship and the Pace/Maryland Weekly Colloquium and has been invited to moderate expert panels for the Natural Resources Symposium and the Environmental Law Institute.

She graduated summa cum laude from the Elisabeth Haub School of Law's LLM program following completion of her 180 page thesis on ex situ high seas biodiversity conservation under international environmental law. Her article, "A Deep Dive into the High Seas: Harmonizing Regional Frameworks for Marine Protected Areas with the UNCLOS Convention on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity in Areas beyond National Jurisdiction," was published by Oxford University Press in 2019 in the Yearbook of International Environmental Law. She has a forthcoming article, "Community Renewable Energy for Sustainable Development" in the Edward Elgar publication stemming from the 2018 International Union for Conservation of Nature Academy for Environmental Law Colloquium, which she is co-author of with Elisabeth Haub School of Law Dean Emeritus Richard Ottinger. She recently published a chapter, which she co-authored with former GW Law Associate Dean for Environmental Studies LeRoy Paddock, on "Collaborating with Underserved Communities to Contribute to Decarbonization" in the International Bar Association's section on Energy, Environment, Natural Resources and Infrastructure Law Academic Advisory Group's forthcoming book on energy justice. She also has a forthcoming chapter in a Brill publication on Sustainable Energy Democracy.

At GW Law, Ms. Vithanage teaches International Environmental Law and coaches students in international environmental law moot court competitions. She has taught Environmental Lawyering and delivered guest lectures for various classes on Climate Justice, Energy Justice, and Energy Efficiency. She also teaches Introduction to Environmental Law at GWU's Trachtenberg School of Public Policy & Public Administration and Introduction to Sustainability, an interdisciplinary course based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, at GWU.

Ms. Vithanage is the 2020-21 Co-Chair of the American Bar Association, Section on the Environment, Energy & Resources' International Environmental & Resources Law (IERL) Committee. She is currently pursuing a Doctorate degree at GW Law as the Shaw Graduate Fellow in Administrative Law while teaching as an adjunct professor.


LLB, University of NSW, Sydney; LLM, Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University