The interdependence of the elements of the natural environment is a global phenomenon, yet most of our past actions to protect the environment have focussed on "local" problems. 1 Contemporary environmental problems, such as depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, climate change, 2 and loss of biodiversity can have global ramifications or at the very least, consequences extending beyond national borders. Global environmental problems can only be solved by involving the whole international community.
International environmental law, a branch of public international law, is a growing field of law that is setting the legal standards to deal with such global environmental issues. It encompasses a separate body of law for the protection of the environment, 3 which will serve as the underlying basis of this book. International environmental law is usually divided into two categories: (1) environmental protection and pollution control, and (2) conservation and management of natural resources and ecosystems. However, some scholars have added a third category: sustainable development. 4 International environmental law is used herein in its broadest sense, that is, including considerations of socio-economic issues. Another approach to categorizing international environmental law is described by Schachter. He uses trans-boundary environmental harm to decide what kind of environmental damage should be included in international law. 5 He divides the areas of harmful situations that should be included in international environmental law into the following three categories: (1) situations in which human life support systems are degraded by substances due to human conduct, such as air pollution, (2) the depletion of natural resources and artifacts of value to human beings, and (3) environmental harm to other species, to physical features of the earth and to outer space, whether or not such harm affects human beings. 6
A new overarching field of international law -- international law for sustainable development -- has recently been introduced within the context of the work of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development