It is with pleasure that I write a foreword to this timely exposition and analysis of the system of environmental law as a whole, and as it stands after the Rio Conference. If it seems a little bold to call environmental law a ‘system’, it is assuredly not so bold as it would have been before the publication of Philippe Sands’ important work. A main purpose of academic writing should be to perceive and portray patterns and relations in a body of legal rules so as to make it manageable, teachable, comprehensible and usable. The present work succeeds in doing this to a remarkable degree.
The author’s statement that environmental law has a ‘longer history than some might suggest’ might be thought to border on understatement. When something is taken up as a modish ‘concern’, there is often a strong temptation to think of it as a discovery by a newly enlightened generation. It is, therefore, a useful antidote to be reminded that, of the two pioneering decisions, both still leading and much-cited cases, one was the Bering Sea arbitration, of a century ago, and the other, the Trail Smelter arbitration, of halfa century ago. Nevertheless, the present-day need for law to protect the environment and to preserve resources is of a scale and urgency far beyond the imagining of the early pioneers.
Seeing these questions, however, in a proper historical perspective does help to warn against the dangers of treating environmental law as a specialisation, which can be made a separate study; or, on the other hand, of regarding environmental law – and here I borrow Philippe’s words – as a ‘marginal part of the existing legal order’. A perusal of this book will readily reveal to the reader the fallacy of both of these attitudes. Part I of the book – which is entitled ‘The legal and institutional framework’ – comprises illuminating treatments of such basic subjects of international law as the legal nature of states, international organisations, non-governmental organisations, treaties and other international acts such as resolutions of the General Assembly and other international bodies, EC regulations and directives, the nature and uses of customary law, the general principles of law, and general problems of compliance, implementation and enforcement, and dispute settlement. These pages amply demonstrate that the environmental lawyer has to be equipped with a good basic knowledge of general international law before he can even get properly started on the study