Principles of International Environmental Law

By Philippe Sands | Go to book overview

2

History

See literature cited in Chapter 1, ‘Further reading’, pp. 18 et seq. See also: R. Carson,
Silent Spring (1963); G. Hardin, ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’, 162 Science 3859
(1968); B.Ward and R. Dubos, Only One Earth (1972); and M. Nicholson, The New
Environmental Age
(1987).


Introduction

Modern international environmental law can be traced directly to international legal developments which took place in the second half of the nineteenth century. Thus, although the current form and structure of the subject has become recognisable only since the mid-1980s, a proper understanding of modern principles and rules requires a historic sense of earlier scientific, political and legal developments. International environmental law has evolved over at least four distinct periods, reflecting developments in scientific knowledge, the application of new technologies and an understanding of their impacts, changes in political consciousness and the changing structure of the international legal order and institutions.1

The first period began with bilateral fisheries treaties in the nineteenth century, and concluded with the creation of the new international organisations in 1945. During this period, peoples and nations began to understand that the process of industrialisation and development required limitations on the exploitation of certain natural resources (flora and fauna) and the adoption of appropriate legal instruments. The second period commenced with the creation of the UN and culminated with the UN Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in June 1972. Over this period, a range of international organisations with competence in environmental matters was created, and legal instruments were adopted, at both the regional and global level, which addressed particular sources of pollution and the conservation of general and particular environmental resources, such as oil pollution, nuclear testing, wetlands, the marine environment and its living resources, the quality

1 For another approach, identifying traditional, modern and post-modern eras, see T. Kuokkanen, International Law and the Environment: Variations on a Theme (2002).

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