International Environmental Law and Global Public Health. (Theme Papers)

By von Schirnding, Yasmin; Onzivu, William et al. | Bulletin of the World Health Organization, December 2002 | Go to article overview

International Environmental Law and Global Public Health. (Theme Papers)


von Schirnding, Yasmin, Onzivu, William, Adede, Andronico O., Bulletin of the World Health Organization


Abstract The environment continues to be a source of ill-health for many people, particularly in developing countries. International environmental law offers a viable strategy for enhancing public health through the promotion of increased awareness of the linkages between health and environment, mobilization of technical and financial resources, strengthening of research and monitoring, enforcement of health-related standards, and promotion of global cooperation. An enhanced capacity to utilize international environmental law could lead to significant worldwide gains in public health.

Keywords Environmental health; International law; World health; Environmental exposure/legislation; Conservation of natural resources/legislation; Environmental pollution; Greenhouse effect; Environment; International cooperation; Interinstitutional relations; Developing countries (source: MeSH, NLM).

Mots cles Hygiene environnement; Droit international; Sante mondiale; Exposition environnement/legislation; Protection ressources naturelles/legislation; Pollution environnement; Effet serre; Environnement; Cooperation internationale; Relation interinstitutionnelle; Pays en developpement (source: MeSH, INSERM).

Palabras clave Salud ambiental; Derecho internacional; Salud mundial; Exposicion a riesgos ambientales/legislacion; Conservacion de los recursos naturates/legislacion; Contaminacion ambiental; Efecto invernadero; Ambiente; Cooperacion internacional; Relaciones interinstitucionales; Paises en desarrollo (fuente: DeCS, BIREME).

Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2002;80:970-974.

Introduction

A major shift in public health has occurred in recent years, with disease threats having become more transnational in nature. Because many countries are losing their ability to contain threats to health within their own borders, international law has become a necessary tool for promoting action on public health issues. Questions of health and the environment have become serious global concerns requiring increased international legal cooperation.

Environmental factors are increasingly responsible for ill-health in many parts of the world (1, 2). This is particularly true in developing countries and among poor and vulnerable groups, who are most at risk of exposure to environmental hazards associated with poverty, industrialization, and rapid urbanization (3, 4).

The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in 1972, was the first to draw attention to environmental degradation and spearheaded a move towards more intensified international action on this matter (5). Following the work of the World Commission on Environment and Development, and the publication in 1987 of its report Our common future (6), the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (also referred to as the Earth Summit) was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 (7). The resulting Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and Agenda 21, a global programme of action on sustainable development, were adopted, and legally binding instruments such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Framework Convention on Climate Change were opened for signature at the Earth Summit.

Agenda 21 stressed the need to protect and promote human health, e.g. by encouraging preventive efforts and by reducing risks associated with environmental pollution and other hazards (8). The World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg in August 2002 (9), reviewed progress on the implementation of Agenda 21 and recommended measures for strengthening it (10) and the related outcomes of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Health was identified as one of five key priorities in sustainable development (11). Agenda 21 and sustainable development have thus provided a platform whereby WHO can promote health through, inter alia, international environmental law. …

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