The Global Environment and International Law

The Global Environment and International Law

The Global Environment and International Law

The Global Environment and International Law


International law has become the key arena for protecting the global environment. Since the 1970s, literally hundreds of international treaties, protocols, conventions, and rules under customary law have been enacted to deal with such problems as global warming, biodiversity loss, and toxic pollution. Proponents of the legal approach to environmental protection have already achieved significant successes in such areas as saving endangered species, reducing pollution, and cleaning up whole regions, but skeptics point to ongoing environmental degradation to argue that international law is an ineffective tool for protecting the global environment.

In this book, Joseph DiMento reviews the record of international efforts to use law to make our planet more livable. He looks at how law has been used successfully—often in highly innovative ways—to influence the environmental actions of governments, multinational corporations, and individuals. And he also assesses the failures of international law in order to make policy recommendations that could increase the effectiveness of environmental law. He concludes that a "supranational model" is not the preferred way to influence the actions of sovereign nations and that international environmental law has been and must continue to be a laboratory to test approaches to lawmaking and implementation for the global community.


Those who have followed the attempts in Rio de Janeiro, the Hague, Nairobi, Stockholm, Montreal, Kyoto, Buenos Aires, and Johannesburg to construct an international law of the environment have witnessed an intense, active, colorful, fascinating, and often confusing drama. They may have wondered whether the sometimes circuslike sessions involving heads of state and indigenous people and observers actually can produce what they understand to be effective law. Many legal specialists also question the contribution of the immense outpouring of instruments created to address global environmental degradation in the last several decades.

This book aims to answer the question “To what extent has international environmental law mattered?” I seek to do so in several ways. I summarize the history of the movement in law toward regional and global efforts to protect species, conserve resources, and stop pollution. I evaluate the effectiveness of efforts found in hundreds of treaties, customary laws, soft laws, and related international agreements. I describe the instruments that have been employed and the characteristics they share.

Some of the lawmaking techniques are new and innovative. They reflect experiments to organize hundreds of nations and thousands of cultures to confront unprecedented global challenges. International environmental law is a part of international law itself, but it also has been a major harbinger of change in global law generally. It has been a laboratory to test approaches to lawmaking and implementation that may be more generally applicable.

Two objectives come together in the newer international environmental law. One is substantive: slow down environmental harm, restore ecological health. the other is procedural: try to do so through cooperative activities that recognize and respect widely differing cultures and value systems. These are objectives to which I was first introduced by the people to whom I dedicate this work. Joseph Sax helped make the envi-

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