Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Enforcing Environmental Security: The Challenges of Compliance with International Obligations

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Enforcing Environmental Security: The Challenges of Compliance with International Obligations

Article excerpt

Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening, of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being.(2)

The emerging importance of environmental concerns to international security(3) was emphasized in a January 1992 statement by the 15 members of the United Nations Security Council, declaring that "non-military sources of instability in the economic, social, humanitarian and ecological fields have become threats to peace and security."(4) Six months later, the majority of the world's nations gathered in Rio de Janeiro for the U.N. Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED), which had, as one of its major objectives,

to assess the capacity of the U.N. system to assist in the prevention and settlement of disputes in the environmental sphere and to recommend measures in this field, while respecting existing bilateral and international agreements that provide for the settlement of such disputes.(5)

Implicit in the international legal instruments adopted at UNCED is the recognition that the members of the international community must act together to address global environmental challenges and to prevent the occurrence and escalation of international environmental conflicts.(6)

In this broader security context, states' compliance with their international environmental obligations has become a more critical issue in international affairs than ever before. This is evident from the attention the subject received during UNCED as well as the negotiation of recent landmark environmental treaties, including the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (1987 Montreal Protocol) and the 1992 Conventions on Climate Change and Biological Diversity.

Three factors underlie this increased concern with compliance. First, the growing demands and needs of states for access to and use of natural resources coupled with a finite, and perhaps even shrinking, resource base lay the groundwork for increasing interstate tension and conflict. Second, as international environmental obligations increasingly affect national economic interests, states that do not comply with their environmental obligations are perceived to gain unfair competitive economic advantage over other states. Finally, the nature and extent of international environmental obligations have been transformed in recent years as states assume greater environmental treaty commitments.

Despite the recent emergence of the concept of environmental security, the challenges it poses are not new to the international legal order. Indeed, the legal issues facing the international community today in relation to the environment are remarkably similar to those addressed one hundred years ago.(7) Over the past century, the international legal system has developed institutions, mechanisms and techniques for preventing and resolving international environmental disputes that have emerged as certain natural resources diminish. The controversial issues include transboundary air pollution, the diversion of international rivers, conservation of fisheries resources, national import restrictions adopted to enforce environmental objectives and responsibility for rehabilitation of mined lands.(8) The existing institutions that deal with environmental security are the United Nations, regional and other organizations established by UNCED and earlier environmental agreements. Furthermore, in the last two decades since the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, which was the precursor of today's environmental movement, the international community has created a large body of international environmental law to establish standards and procedures on handling disputes. The current dispute between Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia over the diversion of the Danube illustrates the range of enforcement and dispute settlement options available, as Hungary seeks to prevent further dam construction by taking the case to the International Court of justice (ICJ), as well as to arbitration and the emergency procedures of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). …

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