International Environmental Law – Problems and Prospects



“For 200 years we haven conquering nature,

Now we’re beating it to death.”

-TOM McMILLAN, Greenhouse Trap ’90.

This report emphasizes that the central problem facing the international communities in devising and enforcing appropriate environmental laws is due to twp diametrically opposing philosophies which are inherently mutually exclusive- Capitalism and environmental protection. It also shows how central pillar of capitalism; private property has juxtaposed itself into international norms as the relatively modern concept of sovereignty and that this concept is the international legal norm that is hindering with the macroscopic arena of formulating appropriate international environmental protection.

At the enforcement stage, countries are unwilling to enforce laws precisely because of maintaining the edge in competition. Capitalism and environmental protection are joined in an awkward legal unification which leads to ineffective environmental protection and poor realization of equity and medium of international direction- the law is inherently bias towards economic interests and thus need to be re-formulated in order to give effective protection for our planet.

“It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.”

-Ansel Adams.


a. Biodiversity- The number of species of plants, animals and micro-organism, the enormous diversity of genes in these species, the different ecosystems on the planet, such as rain-forests and coral reefs are all part of biologically diverse EARTH.


It boosts ecosystem productivity where each species how small, have an important role to play.


Sustainable development and consumption would help avert ecological problems.


The pressures to destroy habitat for logging, illegal hunting and other challenge are making conservation a struggle.


Rapid global warming can affect an ecosystem’s chances to adopt naturally.


World’s marine diversity faces threats from human activities. It is also feared that many would die soon.


b. Climate changing and Global Warming:

a. Global dimming- clouds reflect more sun rays to space.


c. Climate justice and equity.

c. Global Warming and Population:

a. COP 15-Copenhagen Climate Summit 2009

b. COP 14- Poznam Climate Conference 2008

c. COP 13- Bali Climate Conference 2008

d. COP 11- Montreal Climate Conference 2005

e. COP 10- Buenos Aires Climate Conference 2004

f. COP 8- Delhi Climate Conference 2002

g. COP 7- Marakesh Climate Conference 2001

h. COP 6- Hague climate conference 2000

i. COP 4- Buenos Aires Climate Conference 2000

j. Kyoto protocol-2002

d. El Nino And Climate Change:

1997 Nino caused huge problems all over the world, from droughts to floods and poor yield of crops.

e. Energy Security:

The past drive for fossil fuels has led to wars, overthrow of democratically elected leaders, puppet governments and dictatorships.

f. Human Population:

It creates a stress on environment, society and resources.

g. Natural Disaters:

Hurricane Katrina.

Asian earthquake and Tsunami.

Third world debt and Disaster recovery

h. Genetically engineered Food-

Genetically modified crops and organisms are proving to be hazardous both for environment and humans.

i. Sustainable Development:

The idea of sustainable development moved from numerous environmental movements. Summits such as Earth Summit in Rio, were major international meetings to bring sustainable development to the mainstream.


(United Nations Development Programme)

• Generalized figures hide extreme poverty and inequality of consumption on the whole.

• If emerging nations also follow the same path as today’s rich countries, their consumption patterns will also be damaging to the environment.

• 20% of the highest income groups consume 86%.

• 20% of the poorest groups consume 1.3%

• Issues related to consumption also effect environmental degradation, poverty, hunger and even rise in obesity.


Initiatives taken by the world to improve environment


1968- Biosphere, International Conference for rational use of Biosphere.


1971-Polluter’s pays principle, stated by OECD.

1972- Conference on Human Environment- Stockholm, 1972

(Declaration that environment was endangered.)

1977-Conference on Desertification


1981- World Health Assembly adopts a global strategy for health.

1982- UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea.

(Provisions dealing with pollution of marine environment.)

1984-International Conference on Environment and Economic

• Brundtland Report

1985- Vienna Convention on Depletion of Ozone Layer

21 countries + European Community.

1987-Montrael Protocol on Substance that depletes the Ozone Layer-36 countries ratified it.

1989- The Basel convention-100 countries signed it.

To control the Trans boundary movement of hazardous waste and disposal.


1990-UN Summit for Children- environment for future.

1992- Earth Summit- UNCED-Rio De Janiero.

World Economy and effects on World environment.

1992-UNFCCC- To combat global warming.

To stabilize GHG concentrations in the atmosphere.

1993- UN Commission on Sustainable Development.

• To enhance international co-operation

• To rationalize inter-governmental decision making capacity.

1995- World Summit for Sustainable Development- Copenhagen

Clear commitment to eradicate poverty.

1995- First Conference of parties (COP-1) to the CCC

170 nations ratified the convention.

Central issue – adequacy of commitments.

A body was created to develop recommendations to assist the COP in the review and assessment of the implementation of the FCCC and in the preparation and implementation of its decisions.

1996- ISO 1400- adopted as an international standard for corporate environment management systems.

1997- Kyoto Protocol- 159 nations attending COP-3 to the UNFCCC agreed to reduce worldwide emissions of GHG.

• It also established emissions trading, joint implementations and clear development mechanisms to encourage co-operative emission reduction projects between developed and developing nations.

Top-5 emitters for the year 2005

Country or region % of global total

annual emissions Tonnes of GHG

per capita


17 % 5.8

United States

16 % 24.1

European Union

11 % 10.6


6 % 12.9


5 % 2.1

The projected temperature increase for a range of greenhouse gas stabilization scenarios (the coloured bands). The black line in middle of the shaded area indicates ‘best estimates’; the red and the blue lines the likely limits.

Obstacles for effective environmental law


International law Is inherently weak and cannot supply sufficient protection for environment for one main reason- sovereignty. The insistence on states on maintaining sovereignty leads to legal formulation problems and an absence of enforcement or sanctions for non-compliance.

The concept given in many treaties. The Tuna Dolphin Case in 1991 substantiates this claim where a GATT panel held that a country can only control the consumption of a natural resource. “only to the extent that the production or consumption is under jurisdiction,”

1n 1962, the UN General Assembly held “sovereignty over resources must be exercised in the interest….of the well being of the state concerned.”

PRINCIPLE-21 of the Stockholm Declaration states that “do not cause damage to environment of the other states.” The common criticism is that international agreements do not secure real environmental protection because their design and operation ultimately affect national interests over environmental stewardship. Further, international law relies on the state bargaining and often they do not reach a consensus on anything but a lowest common-denominator basis which is unsatisfactory. By the time protection envisioned treaties reached national levels, it is massively watered down and corrupted with capitalist profit motive-there is little protection afforded to environment.

The commencement of these principles and treaties is also starting. Kyoto took two and a half years of negotiations to adopt. Even worse is the implementation time between adoption and enforcement. Susskind concludes “Environmental Protection strategies that made sense when they were first proposed represent ‘too little, too late’ by the time they were implemented. Barret eloquently summarizes the argument, “the Kyoto targets simply reflect what was politically feasible at the time and not what is appropriate from an ecological standpoint. What is distressing is that what was politically feasible at the time meant that U.S. refused to sign it.

The essence of sustainable development is the much cited “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.” The concern of International Law is by the time soft law from sustainable development reaches a national level; it is corrupted into merely extending market values to incorporate the environment into the wider economy leading to insufficient environmental protection and inadequate help to developing countries.

Brundtland said, “Those who are poor and hungry will often destroy their immediate environment in order to survive. People mismanage land and countries to industrialise at an ecologically inconsistent rate leading to problems for present and future generations, to remove poverty. Kyoto also has a ‘Clean Development Mechanism’, where developed countries finance developing countries projects to receive emissions reduction credits to transfer finance and technology.

Much legislation has been passed under its Environmental Action Programmes. Its treaties mention Environmental Protection Principles.



It is a protocol to the international Framework Convention on climate Change with objectives of reducing Greenhouse Gases that cause climate change.

As of 2007, 174 parties have ratified the protocol.

36 developed countries have to reduce GHG emissions.

137 developing countries have ratifies including Brazil, China and India.

US and Kazakhstan-signatory nations but not ratified.

Treaty expires on 2012.

Kyoto underwritten by governments, governed under Legislation by UN.

Annex-1: Country if fails to meet obligations; penalized by 1.3 emissions allowance

By 2012, Annex-1 has to reduce by 5%.

Kyoto has flexible agreements where Annex-1 can purchase GHG emission reduction from elsewhere to meet their requirements.

Kyoto aimed to cut down global emissions of GHG.

stabilize concentration of GHG in atmosphere.

It is an agreement negotiated as an amendment to UNFCCC.

Developed nations have to finance climate related studies and projects.

It is a ‘cap-and-trade’ system which imposes a cap on emissions by the Annex-1 countries.

Per country green house emissions


Acknowledging that changes in earth’s climate and its adverse effects are a common concern for human kind.

Largest share of GHG emissions comes from developed countries, per capita emissions in developing countries are lower.

Awareness of the role and importance in terrestrial and marine ecosystems of sinks.

Recalling the pertinent provisions of the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the human environment adopted at Stockholm, 1972.

Reaffirming the principle of sovereignty of states in International Cooperation to address climate change.

States should enact effective environmental legislation.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY-44/228 on UNCED; on protection of global climate for present and future generations.

VIENNA CONVENTION-for the protection of Ozone Layer and the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete ozone Layer.


Need for developed countries to take immediate action in a flexible manner; towards comprehensive response strategies accounting all GHG

Recognizing low-lying areas and islands which are vulnerable to floods and affects of climate change.

All, especially developing countries, need to access to resources required to achieve sustainable social and economic development.


The ultimate objective of this convention and any related legal instruments that the conference of the parties may adopt is to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, stabilization of GHG concentrations the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

Art-1: Definitions

Art-2: Objective

Art-3: Principles

Art-4: Commitments

Art-5: Research and systematic observations

Art-6: Education, training and public awareness

Art-7: Conference of the parties

Art-8: Secretariat

Art-9: Subsidiary body of scientific and technological advice

Art-10: Subsidiary body for implementation

Art-11: Financial mechanism

Art-12: Communication of information relating to implementation.

Art-13: Resolution of questions regarding implementation.

Art-14: Settlement of disputes

Art-15: Amendments to the Constitution.

Art-16: Adoption and amendment of Annexure to the Constitution.

Art-17: Protocols.

Art-18: Right to Vote.

Art-19: Depository.

Art-20: Signature

Art-21: Interim Agreements

Art-22: Ratification, Acceptance, approval or Accession.

Art-23: Entry into force.

Art-24: Reservations.

Art-25: Withdrawals.

Art-26: Authentic texts.



A value has been assigned to a reduction and offset of greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon credits and markets are key components of international and national attempts to mitigate the growth in concentrations of GHG. One carbon credit equals one tonne of carbon dioxide.

Carbon trading is an application of an emission trading approach. GHG emissions are capped and markets are used to allocate the emissions among the group of regulated sources. The goal is to allow market mechanisms to drive industrial and commercial processes in the direction of low emissions or less carbon intensive approaches than those used when there is no cost to emitting CO2 and GHGs into the atmosphere.

Since GHG mitigation projects generate credits, this approach can be used to finance carbon reduction schemes between trading partners around the world.

There are also many companies that sell carbon credits to commercial and individual customers who are interested in lowering the carbon footprints on a voluntary basis.


Total set of GHG emissions caused by an organization, event, and product.

The concept of carbon credits came into existence as a result of increasing awareness of the need for controlling emissions. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has observed that:

“Policies that provide a real or implicit price of carbon could create incentives for products and consumers to significantly invest in low GHG products, technologies and processes. Such policies could include economic investments, government funding and regulation.”




Economic expansion and profit motives are incompatible with environmental protection because they inhibit environmental law at every single level. At the macroscopic level, the formulation is hindered because of sovereignty. The nation state system is incompatible with environmental protection problems transcend national boundaries. Such agreements, even after being made take too long. Because essentially states are in competition with one another. Finally when international negotiations done are left only with a compromise, heavily biased to capitalism leading to a broad unspecific ‘law’ that is not ecologically sufficient.

When this poor compromise reaches national level, it is again diffused in implementation via inclusion of economic devices to realize some principles. Enforcement is a bigger problem because capitalism requires firms and countries to compete. Even for those who try to enforce environmental law, they are inherently economically bias.

In final analysis, at every single level from devising to enforcement to transfer technology or wealth the main hindrance to international environmental law is primarily capitalism. Laws require consensus, unfortunately without a major catalyst international environmental law is at ends with an already entrenched system of capitalist norms- both internationally and nationally.

Source by Mandira Singh


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