Ethics in International Environmental Law

26 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2005


The actual influence of didactic ethics on public policy is controversial, and perhaps particularly so in regard to multilateral fora. But efforts to mend the global environment invite ethical analysis in three ways. First, there are issues of human obligations to the non-human environment ("environmental ethics" proper). Second there are issues of ethics among nations in respect of the environment ("international ethics"). Third, there are issues of ethics among generations in respect of the environment ("inter-generational ethics").

The first - environmental ethics proper - can be illustrated by the question, has humankind an obligation not to kill whales? (Have whales rights?) The second is illustrated by the question, if the harvesting of a certain number of whales is moral, have indigenous peoples a higher priority on them than commercial fishermen from industrialized countries? (Are there principles of fair distribution among nations?) The third can be illustrated by the question, have present generations an obligation to remote future generations to preserve whales? (Are there obligations of sustainable development?)

The author reviews and critically assesses these and related issues that have been recurring in international environmental governance bodies and literature.

Suggested Citation

Stone, Christopher D., Ethics in International Environmental Law. Available at SSRN:

Christopher D. Stone (Contact Author)

USC Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

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