Environment is Meant to Gain More Space in International Law

Thursday, July 19, 2012

There are certain things that sometimes escape international lawyer’s mind. Important things that sometimes are lost in the shadows of conflicts and crisis situations, treaties and customary regulations of war and peace. I am talking about environmental concerns of the modern world and how international law is in attempt to regulate them.
To start discussing the regulations in themselves it is important to first remind ourselves about the reasoning behind the environmental challenges. I was reminded by one particular panel on Crans Montana Forum that was held in Baku in the very end of June, called “The Impact of Globalization on the World Environment”. When panel’s keynote-speaker Vice-President of Heydar Aliyev Foundation, IDEA Campaign founder Leyla Aliyeva was delivering her speech it was striking to me that though I knew that our country was left with major environmental concerns just after the Soviet past, I practically never stopped to think that it is I who will be one of those responsible for future cleanup, as every other citizen of my generation will be. When Ms. Aliyeva was talking about the role of younger generation in the prevention of negative effects to the environment – it became clear to me that everyone of us will be responsible to the answer the environmental challenges in his/her own capacity. If I am an international lawyer – then it is quite obvious where I should raise awareness.
However it is not enough just to spread the word and conduct your efforts accordingly. You need to relay them into the future. Just as Ms. Aliyeva pointed out – education on environment is essential to address the future environmental challenges. Our generation when growing up lacked that kind of education due to the period of change and struggle to the basic development, however now we owe it to our children to provide them with the knowledge they need to continue what we will start in preserving our nature, taking care of environment and striving for sustainable development. Because just like Ms. Aliyeva said – the young people are the forth front for environmental developments.
If there will be no action now we might one day find ourselves in the situation described by the other speaker on the panel Mr. Subramaniam Eassuwaren, New Leader 2012 from Sri Lanka who told his very said however educational story of how Sri Lanka lost almost 90% of its rainforests to the development without heed to the environmental protection. If we don’t want to face such situation sometime in the future, we need to answer the call of Ms. Aliyeva that there is a need for urgent actions and commitments on the part of younger generations.
So what does the international law do right now to protect environment? Mostly sought topics of regulation in international law concerning environment are climate change, sustainable development, biodiversity, transfrontier pollution, marine pollution, endangered species, hazardous materials and activities, cultural preservation, desertification and the uses of seas. All of these topics in one or another matter have found themselves in the scope of international environmental law. It is worth mentioning that United Nations has its own Environmental Programme.
However the main question still remains on how to enforce the international environmental law. Of course there are forums that provide the arbitration to environmental disputes between states. There are several international arbitration panels, including International Court of Justice itself. The major problem is that such arbitrations require states to voluntarily submit to their jurisdictions. In addition even if there is a decision made in the international arbitration, it heavily depends on national governments to enforce such decisions. Problems arise when the implementations of ruling is withheld or suspended due to the political or economic reasons.
Another hindrance in the implementation of international environmental law is the lack of the international body charged with the responsibility to enforce such law directly. Thus the responsibility lies on the national authorities to adopt and use implementing policies. That is why it is very important for the international bodies to at least conduct monitoring and diplomatic functions when it comes to the responsibility of the states to protect environment.
Nonetheless, it seems that there is an upcoming tendency of international community to get more involved in the matters concerning international environmental regulations. Though a lot still depends on the good will of the states it is everybody’s responsibility to raise awareness of the situation and demand the effective implementation of the norms that will help us save our future. And it is the responsibility of international lawyers everywhere to take action in the lobbying and promoting the efforts to enforce international environmental law. With that it can truly be said that environment is meant to gain its proper space in international law.

Kamal Makili-Aliyev
Doctor of Laws (LL.D)

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