The Significance of International Environmental Law Principles in Reinforcing or Dismantling the North-South Divide
International Environmental Law and the Global South, edited by Shawkat Alam, Sumud Atapattu, Carmen G. Gonzalez and Jona Razzaque. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015, pp. 74-108.
Posted: 12 Sep 2015 Last revised: 22 Sep 2015
Date Written: September 10, 2015
The field of international environmental law has blossomed into a separate branch of international law despite its slow start, and is now replete with principles that govern environmental issues. While their legal status varies, these principles are important for several reasons. First, they provide a framework to negotiate new environmental treaties and implement existing ones. Thus, for example, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), quite unprecedentedly, devotes a whole article to "principles" that should guide the parties to the Convention to achieve its objectives and to implement its provisions. Second, they provide guidance to various judicial bodies to resolve environmental disputes. Thus, in the Pulp Mills Case, the ICJ referred to transboundary environmental impact assessment as part of customary international law. Third, they provide a framework for decisions at the national level. Thus, the Indian Supreme Court has applied the precautionary principle, the polluter pays principle, sustainable development, and the intergenerational equity principle in many of the cases before it. Finally, some principles may be useful in integrating environmental issues with other branches of international trade law and international human rights law and vice versa: Trade sanctions have been used successfully in environmental regimes. The ozone regime is a good example. Moreover, some principles embodied in soft law instruments can shape state practice and result in crystallizing a customary international law principle over time, or they could be incorporated into a treaty. Principle 21 of the Stockholm Declaration is a good example of a soft law principle becoming part of customary international law, while participatory rights being incorporated into a treaty, albeit regional, is an example of soft law becoming part of treaty law.
Keywords: environmental law, International Law, North-South Divide, soft law, treaties
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