An International Regime for Environmental Protection

16 Pages Posted: 12 Dec 2012 Last revised: 24 Feb 2015

See all articles by Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC

Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC

Victoria University of Wellington - Faculty of Law

Date Written: 1992


This paper covers two parts. The first relates to the general character of international law as it now comes to us and the second relates to the threats to the environment – the two problems are dynamically interrelated. It is possible to reach the levels of international cooperation which are necessary for the world to conquer the problems that we face relating to the environment. The threats to our environment are man made and the solutions lie in our hands.

International law suffers from a number of deficiencies. Some jurisprudential writers have said that international law is not law. Many writers have problems analysing international law. These views are often reflected in the opinion of ordinary people. This paper addresses the argument that international law is not law, considering its institutional deficiencies and fundamental differences from domestic legal systems. It discusses the issue of sovereignty, arguing that if political decision makers can be convinced that a broadly acceptable regime can be worked out that will offer the prospect of solving the problems of the biosphere, they will not quibble at the surrender of some sovereignty. But to design such a regime is a formidable undertaking from both a technical and a political point of view. There is no obligation on any nation state to become party to a particular treaty. That is the first difficulty. The second difficulty of international law which becomes obvious when we are dealing with global environmental issues relates to adjudication. Compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice is itself optional. States can accept it or not as they see fit.

The paper addresses the approaches taken toward the ozone layer, but raises that the problem with climate change is that the social and economic impacts of the policy decisions are much wider than for the ozone layer. Ozone is a relatively simple problem. The cause is known and the cures are obvious. Climate change is a horse of a very different colour.

The author suggests that within the Framework Convention due to be negotiated in Brazil there must be some new elements of international law to deal with the issue. First there must be a legislative process which is capable of making binding rules which states must follow. Second there must be some means of having compulsory adjudication of disputes, either through the ICJ or to a special tribunal. Finally, there needs to be a new institution capable of monitoring activity and coordinating action.

Keywords: climate change, international law, Framework Convention, international environmental law, ozone layer

JEL Classification: K32, K33

Suggested Citation

Palmer QC, Sir Geoffrey, An International Regime for Environmental Protection (1992). 42 Journal of Urban and Contemporary Law 5 , 1992; Victoria University of Wellington Legal Research Paper Series Palmer Paper No. 39. Available at SSRN:

Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC (Contact Author)

Victoria University of Wellington - Faculty of Law ( email )

PO Box 600
Wellington, 6140
New Zealand

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