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Environmental Law

Principles of International Environmental Law
There are several principles of environmental law that have evolved since the development of the Stockholm Declaration:

The Precautionary Principle
Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration spells out that if serious environmental damage is possible, positive action to protect the environment should not be delayed until irrefutable scientific proof of harm is available. We should exercise precaution. A very important part of this principle is that a body may need to prove that their actions will not cause environmental damage before they actually do anything. It has been incorporated into many recent environmental treaties, including regional treaties such as the 1992 Maastricht Treaty on European Union, the 1992 Paris Convention on the North East Atlantic, the Helsinki Convention on the Baltic, and global environmental treaties such as the UNFCCC, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the 1995 United Nations Agreement on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks.

Sustainable Development
 The 1987 Brundtland Committee Report defined sustainable development as "Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. It recognizes the need to leave future generations an environment that will provide for them.

Common but Differentiated Responsibility
This means that whilst countries may have a common responsibility, it is differentiated. For example, Article 4 of the 1992 UNFCCC, places an obligation on developed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by specific amounts. Developing countries are only obliged to implement these commitments to the extent that developed countries have met their commitments to provide financial resources and to transfer technology.  Developing countries can participate in the Clean Development Mechanism, which allows countries to cooperate on specific projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so whilst they share responsibility with developed countries, it is differentiated.

Environment Impact Assessment (EIA)
This is related to the precautionary principle in that it is designed to find out whether a certain future action will result in environmental damage. Environment Impact Assessment is really governed at a domestic law level.  On an international scale, EIA was first discussed at the Stockholm convention, before being written in to Agenda 21 from the Rio Declaration. This calls on countries to assess the suitability of infrastructure in human settlements, ensure that relevant decisions are preceded by EIA’s, take into account the costs of any ecological consequences and integrate environmental considerations in decision making at all levels and all ministries.  The requirement for EIA is also included the 1991 U.N. Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Trans-boundary Context, the 1992 Biodiversity Convention and the 1991 World Bank Operational Directive 4.01.

Environmental Impact Assessment is becoming even more significant due to the right of access to information on the environment and the right of public participation. Public participation was highlighted in Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration which states that environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens.  This participation is made more powerful because of the right that public people have to access environmental information.

Institutions that influence Environmental Law
United Nations
The UN can only really make recommendations and it is up to the member countries to actually adopt their own policies. However, the UN is the most influential intergovernmental organisations in the development of International environmental law.  The articulation of policies and treaties by the UN is usually a big step toward worldwide adoption of environmental policies, and the UN sponsors several programs that have a significant impact on international environmental laws.

World Bank
The World Bank provides a large amount of funding for projects in developing countries.  Prior to the 1980s, the World Bank was criticised for funding projects without due consideration of the social and environmental impacts of such projects. In 1987, the World Bank underwent a major restructure, and an environmental department was formed. In 1989, it introduced an Environmental Assessment (EA) policy. This policy applies to any Bank-financed or implemented project if there is the potential for that project to result in adverse environmental impact. It is also designed as a tool to improve project performance and to enhance the quality and sustainability of projects.  

Basically, any project considered for funding has to be rated as:
•    Category A, which have the greatest potential for adverse environmental impact and a full environmental assessment must be done by the borrower
•    Category B, where a limited assessment of specific impacts is required
•    Category C, where projects are unlikely to have environmental impacts, so no assessment is needed
•    Category D, where no assessment is needed because the project is actually focused on the environment.

The World Bank also adopted several new environmental policies during the 1990s. In 2001, the World Bank adopted another strategy to include environmental concerns in its decision making. This strategy aims to promote environmental improvement as a fundamental element of development and poverty reduction strategies. This means that the World Bank will introduce national level environmental analyses to look at environmental priorities and trends. It will also work towards improving the environmental outcomes of adjustment loans.   

Global Environment Facility (GEF)
Established in 1991, the GEF funds projects that focus specifically on environmental protection. The 167 members of the GEF meet once every four years to top up the fund. The GEF Council is made up of 16 representatives from less developed nations, 14 representatives from more developed nations and 2 representatives from economies in transition. The majority of projects that have received funding through the GEF have been those that address the loss of biodiversity and climate change.

European Union (EU)
The European Union is a political and economic union made up of 27 member states located primarily in Europe. It has the authority to negotiate treaties without ratification from its member countries.
The EU has developed a single market through a standard system of laws that apply in all member states, assuring the free movement of goods, services, capital and people across its member states. No state can set environmental standards that would keep another member state from competing in its markets or keep its firms from competing in other states markets. Examples of legislation introduced by the EU or its former organisation, the European Economic Community include:
  • Introduction of the Water Framework Directive, a water policy aiming to have ‘good quality’ waters in rivers, lakes, ground and coastal waters by 2015.
  • Implementation of the ‘Natura 2000’ program, to protect wildlife across 30000 sites throughout Europe.
  • Introduction of the ‘REACH regulation’, to ensure that 30000 chemicals in daily use are tested for safety
  • Proposing in 2007 that they will make a a 20% cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 and a move to the use of 20% of renewable energy by 2020.
  • A proposal at the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference stating that they will cut greenhouse gases by 50% by 2050.
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