Thursday, October 1, 2009

Environmental Law

International environmental law is the body of international law that concerns the protection of the global environment.

Originally associated with the principle that states must not permit the use of their territory in such a way as to injure the territory of other states, international environmental law has since been expanded by a plethora of legally-binding international agreements. These encompass a wide variety of issue-areas, from terrestrial, marine and atmospheric pollution through to wildlife and biodiversity protection.

The key constitutional moments in the development of international environmental law are:

The 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment focused on the 'human' environment. The conference issued the Declaration on the Human Environment, a statement containing 26 principles and 109 recommendations (now referred to as the Stockholm Declaration). The creation of an environmental agency was also approved, now known as UNEP. In addition, there was the adoption of a Stockholm Action Program. There were no legally binding outcomes resulting from the Stockholm Conference. Principle 21 of the Declaration was a restatement of law already in existence since Roman times, namely that of 'good neighbourliness'. The Action Plan was never successfully followed by any country.

The 1992 Rio conference (also known as the Earth Summit) led to the adoption of several important legally binding environmental treaties, being the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity. In addition to these, the parties adopted a 'soft law' (non-binding agreements) Declaration on Environment and Development which reaffirmed the Stockholm Declaration and provided 27 principles guiding environment and development (now referred to as the Rio Declaration). Another influential soft law document that the parties adopted was Agenda 21, a guide to implementation of the treaties agreed to at the Summit and a guide as to the principles of sustainable development. Agenda 21 also established the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Finally, the non-legal, non-binding Forest Principles were formed at the Earth Summit.

A further meeting was held in 2002, known as the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), held in Johannesburg, South Africa. Notable is the absence from its title of the word 'environment'. Although this meeting was held to mark the tenth anniversary of the Earth Summit, it is considered by many environmentalists and environmental lawyers to have been less than successful in environmental terms. It attained only limited progress towards stricter global regulation of human impacts on the natural environment. Nonetheless the WSSD brought a renewed emphasis on the synergies between combatting poverty and improving the environment.

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