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Dictionary

International Environmental Legislation

International Environmental Law has developed mainly in response to incidents in which the economic activities of one nation causes environmental damage, injury to persons, and economic costs to another country. Most international environmental legislation, treaties and principles post-date the creation of the United Nations in 1948.

  • International Environmental Law
    • International Environmental Law IEL has developed since the 1948 founding of the United Nations. The sources of international environmental law include treaties, customary rules, legal principles, judicial opinions, and decisions by international institutions and other bodies regarding disputes.

      Principles of International Environmental Law

      International Environmental Law has developed ad hoc. Rather than arising from national rights and obligations, legal principles have arisen primarily in response to pollution emergencies and resource exploitation and conservation disputes.

      There are seven main principles of international law:

      1. State Sovereignty
      2. Specifically the right to exploit natural resources, with an obligation not to cause damage to the environment beyond the national borders.

      3. Principle of Preventive Action
      4. This principle requires states to take actions to reduce, limit or control activities which might cause damage to the environment. Specifically, prevention is where consequences are scientifically certain and actions are taken ahead of the damage occurring. The Principle of Preventive Action relates only to protecting the environment by restricting actions within a state's own jurisdiction.

      5. Principle of Good Neighbourliness and International Co-operation
      6. Article 74 of the UN Charter encourages the principle that reflects states' commitment that 'their policy in their metropolitan areas must be based on the general principle of good neighbourliness'. States should not exercise their rights in a way which infringes upon the rights of other states. This principle is reflected in many treaties, international acts and non-binding instruments, providing for instruments such as environmental impact assessments, and information exchange, consultation and notification.

      7. Principle of Sustainable Development
      8. Sustainable development is defined by the 1987 Brundtland Report as development that 'meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'. The principle of sustainable development encapsulates the dual requirement of economic planning not to exceed the capacities of the biosphere to provide resources, and to absorb wastes, while ensuring that overall living standards improve.

        In answer to the apparent dichotomy that economic growth necessarily means depletion of resources, the Brundtland Report asserts that 'technology and social organisation can be both managed and improved to make way for a new era of economic growth'. There are four elements to sustainable development: inter-generational equity, sustainable use, equitable use, integration of environment and development.

      9. Precautionary Principle
      10. Where there is uncertainty, the risk of irreversible damage to shared natural resources should be avoided by a precautionary approach. Lack of scientific proof should not be the reason for going ahead with potentially risky actions, where there are good grounds for concern.

        Principle 15 of the 1992 Rio Declaration: 'In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by states according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

        Article 191 EC Lisbon Treaty: "Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay."

        Although there is no common formulation of the principle, there are three basic elements involved: 1. regulatory inaction threatens non-negligible harm, 2. significant scientific uncertainty on cause and effect relationships, 3. as a result, regulatory inaction is unjustified.

      11. Polluter Pays Principle
      12. Those parties responsible for causing pollution should pay the consequential costs of that pollution.

      13. Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility
      14. This principle acknowledges the difference in responsibilities and capabilities between developed and developing nations. It asserts the common responsibility of all states for environmental protection, under consideration of each state's contribution to the environmental pollution, as well as ability to prevent, reduce or control such pollution.

      Legal Status of International Law

      Principles are not in themselves legally binding, but serve as guidelines for the formulation of more-binding treaties and other instruments. Principles are often listed in the preamble to treaties and other environmental and jurisprudence documents.

      As was clearly illustrated in the Paris Climate Change Convention, Dec 2015, developing nations prefer to incorporate principles in the bodies of treaties, while developed nations tend to prefer to avoid ambiguity by not including the principles directly within the body of the texts.

      Human Rights and the Environment

      The association of human rights and the environment underlines that the degradation of environmental standards directly infringes internationally-recognised human rights. There is also the principle that people have an express right to a healthy environment.

      List of Selected International Law Documents

      • Brundtland Report 1987 "Our common future"
      • Published by the UN's World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). The former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland was the chairperson of this commission.

      • Rio Declaration 1992
      • Convention on Biological Diversity, CBD 1992
      • Kyoto Protocol 1997
      • UN Charter
      • Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping from Ships and Aircraft 1972
      • UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982
      • Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes 1992
      • Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer 1985
      • Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR Convention) 1992
      • Transboundary Watercourse convention 1992
      • EC Treaty
      • Bergen Declaration (ECE) 1990
      • CITES Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
      • Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer 1987 (Amendments 1990)
      • UN Framework Convention on Climate Change 1992
      • Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques 1977 (ENMOD Convention)

      International Organisations involved with IEL

      • WTO
      • European bank for Reconstruction and Development
      • CITES Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
      • UNEP
      • World Bank
      • GEF Global Environment Facility
      • World Commission on Environment and Development 1987 (Brundtland Commission)
  • Legal compliance
    • Legal compliance means full implementation of applicable legal requirements, including permit conditions, relating to the environment.