International Initiatives on Environmental law

An article by Pulkeshwar Rajpurohit, School of Law, Christ University, Bangalore

Editited By - Lilian Grace Thomas

Meaning of International Environmental law –

International Environmental Law (IEL) is concerned with the endeavour to control pollution and the depletion of common assets inside a system of reasonable development. It is a part of public international law – an assortment of law made by states for states to oversee issues that emerge between states.

IEL covers topics such as population, biodiversity, climate change, ozone depletion, toxic and hazardous substances, air, land, and sea and transboundary water pollution, conservation of marine resources, desertification, and nuclear damage.[1]

International Environmental Law Governance –

The UN Environment Assembly, the highest-level UN body ever convened on the environment, opened on 23 June 2014 at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) headquarters in Nairobi. UNEA feeds directly into the General Assembly and has universal membership of all 193 UN member states as well as other stakeholder groups. With this wide reach into the legislative, financial and development arenas, the new body presents a ground-breaking platform for leadership on global environmental policy.[2]

Key declarations and treaties -


Two major declarations on international environmental law are:

  1. The Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (the 1972 Stockholm Declaration) (UN Doc. A/CONF/48/14/REV.1 (1972): This declaration represented a first major attempt at considering the global human impact on the environment, and an international attempt to address the challenge of preserving and enhancing the human environment. The Stockholm Declaration espouses mostly broad environmental policy goals and objectives rather than detailed normative positions.

  2. 2. The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (UN Doc. A/CONF.151/26 (vol. I)) was a short document produced at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), known as the Rio Earth Summit. The Rio Declaration consists of 27 principles intended to guide future sustainable development around the world.

The UN Audiovisual Library of International Law website provides introductory information, a concise summary of the importance and impact of the Stockholm and Rio declarations, the procedural history and preparatory documents of both Declarations, as well as the full text of the Declarations.

In 2012, the 20th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit was commemorated by the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development.


Standard law and general guidelines identifying with the environment, such as the 'precautionary guideline' and ‘feasible development’ are advancing, yet it is doubtful whether any have become standardizing rules. The attention to worldwide environmental issues at the international political plan implies that standard law is just short of the win to the arrangement of law in the evolution of lawful standards. Moreover, deals have been the primary technique by which the international network has responded to the need for managing exercises which undermine the environment. There are several two-sided and multilateral environmental settlements making states' privileges and obligations. The UN Environment Program (UNEP) and the UN Commission on Sustainable Development have arranged huge numbers of these settlements.

A couple of significant arrangements are recorded beneath, however, the full content of all IEL deals can be found on ECOLEX, a free online door to environmental law settlements.

Settlements by and large concern one of the accompanying wide subjects: poisonous and dangerous substances, atomic harm, sea and marine sources, ozone and protection of the air, pollution, biodiversity and the protection and conservation of species and untamed life, feasible development and exchange, and the environment. The Globalex Guide on International Environmental Legal Research gives a valuable table of these subjects together with connections to the arrangements and important organizations.

Although the foundations of international environmental law had been laid down as of 1990, international environmental law has kept up its dynamic character in the manner provided below:

• It has gotten both more extensive and more profound.

• It has created inventive ways to deal with the arrangement plan, to energize participation and assess changing national conditions.

• In addition to settlement making, new methods of standardizing development play progressively significant jobs: decisions of the gatherings to multilateral environmental arrangements, private regulation, and legal decisions.

• It connects more straightforwardly with non-state entertainers.

• It has gotten more firmly interlaced with other zones of international law.

• It has developed as a control.

The following is my personal top ten list of developments since 1990. It should be noted that, in several cases, the features I highlight are not entirely new, but rather the flowering of seeds sewn earlier.

1. Widening –

“To begin with, international environmental law has tackled many new issues. The expansion from an initial focus on nature conservation and marine pollution to a wider set of environmental issues had already begun by 1990, with the adoption of agreements in the 1980s on acid rain, protection of the stratospheric ozone layer, and transboundary movements of hazardous wastes. Since then, the ambit of international environmental law has expanded much further, and now includes binding agreements on climate change, biodiversity, desertification, persistent organic pollutants, trade in chemicals and pesticides, mercury, environmental impact assessment, and public participation, as well as non-binding principles on forestry.”[3]

2. Extending

Existing international environmental systems have additionally extended along a few dimensions:

• Stringency—The Montreal Protocol of 1987 outlines extending through additional severe duties. In 1987, it directed only eight ozone-draining substances, requiring half a reduction in consumption and production for five and, stabilization for the other three. Through an arrangement of alterations and modifications, it currently controls almost 99% of ozone-exhausting substances and requires the elimination of almost 100.

• Legal bindingness— “A second type of deepening involves converting a non-binding instrument into a legal agreement. For example, prior to 1990, states had adopted non-binding prior informed consent procedures for trade in pesticides and chemicals.”[4]

Inventive Ways to Promote Participation

A key test of multilateral settlement configuration is to empower participation by states. Without wide participation, especially by the nation’s most responsible, a strong environmental understanding will not be viable.

The ozone system gives a decent illustration. It began with a structure convention in 1985 - the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, which set up barely any responsibilities and consequently was simple for states to join. “Then, to encourage states to join the much more demanding Montreal Protocol, it included both carrots and sticks: on the one hand, it gave developing countries with low per capita consumption of ozone-depleting substances an additional ten years to comply; on the other hand, it provided for trade measures against non-parties.”[5]

Since 1990, international environmental law has continued to show noteworthy imagination in concocting instruments to support participation. These include:

1. Choice of commitments – “Some agreements promote participation by allowing states to choose among a menu of possible commitments, rather than defining a single type of commitment.”[6]

For instance, the 1999 Gothenburg Protocol to the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution expects gatherings to apply indicated emission cutoff points to each new stationary source inside determined source classifications. Yet, the Protocol gives that gatherings may, as another option, apply distinctive emission reduction techniques since the procedures accomplish comparable emissions levels for all source classes together.’

2. “Self-determined commitments – Another technique that affords states even greater flexibility in allowing them to self-determine their commitments. The Paris Agreement, for example, allows states to ‘nationally determine’ the type and stringency of their mitigation contributions”[7]

3. Crossover Agreements – The Paris Agreement likewise shows a third method for empowering participation, to be specific, a crossbreed way to deal with legitimate form. The issue of the authoritative document was key to the Paris negotiations from the beginning. A few nations needed a legitimately official arrangement expecting states to decrease their nursery gas emissions, including the European Union and little island creating states; others, for example, the United States and India were hesitant to acknowledge official emission limitations.

More Nuanced Approaches to Differentiation:

International environmental law has likewise grown more differed nuanced ways to deal with the issue of differentiation, mirroring the way that differentiation can have numerous bases (e.g., verifiable responsibilities, limits, national conditions), recognize nations from multiple points of view (e.g., based on a rundown, target criterion, or general descriptor, for example, 'creating nation'), and take numerous structures (e.g., various obligations, diverse planning, adaptability in implementation).


In spite of the expanding thickness of international environmental regulation, concerns mount on the envisioned 'holes' in international environmental law.

One such hole is the absence of an overall legitimate concurrence on the environment, similar to the two international agreements on human rights. The Stockholm and Rio Declarations articulate general environmental standards yet are not legitimately authoritative. Allies of the proposed Global Pact on the Environment contend that it is expected to fill this 'hole,' even though pundits question whether the likely advantages of lawfully restricting standards merit the expense in arranging exertion, not to mention the dangers that environmental standards would be watered down in the arranging cycle or get restricted acknowledgement from states. Moreover, its merits considering that international environmental law has progressed in the course of recent years generally through the development of point by point settlement systems, deliberately custom fit to the particularities of an environmental issue, rather than through one-size-fits-all standards. A more unambiguous hole in the international environmental law is the absence of a restricting instrument on a specific issue. Numerous such holes have been filled in the course of recent years—for instance, the Minamata Convention with regard to mercury. Be that as it may, a few holes stay—most remarkably, the absence of an understanding, authoritative or otherwise.

[1] Lakshman D Guruswamy, International Environmental Law in a Nutshell (West, 5th ed, 2017). [2] Peter H. Sand. International Environment Agreements, Northampton, MA (Edward Elgar, 2019). [3] Philippe Sands and Jacqueline Peel, Principles of International Environmental Law (Cambridge University Press, 4th ed., 2018). [4] FAO Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides (1985); UNEP London Guidelines for the Exchange of Information on Chemicals in International Trade (1987). [5] Montreal Protocol, Articles 4-5 (1987). [6] Daniel Bodansky, ‘Building Flexibility and Ambition into a 2015 Climate Agreement,’ Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (2014) at 5–6. [7] Paris Agreement, 2015, 55 ILM 740 (2016) at art. 4.2

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