"Environment: That which environs or surrounds; surrounding conditions, influences, or forces, by which living forms are influenced and modified in their growth and development. "1 The term 'environment' is extremely difficult to define, especially in a legal sense. This may be due to the difficulty both to identify and to restrict the scope of such an ambiguous term: "it is a term that everyone understands and no one is able to define"2.
The European Commission, however, in developing an 'Action Program on the Environment' offered a definition of 'environment' as "the combination of elements whose complex inter-relationships make the settings, the surroundings and the conditions of life of the individual and of society as they are and as they are felt. "3 The term might convey an image of plants, animals, or painted people demonstrating on construction sites rather than a group of sober suited lawyers, International Conventions, Laws, Agreements and Court Cases.
The Range of topics under the general heading of environmental law is extensive. It could include planning law, the law relating to the equality of the air and water, the disposal and transportation of waste, and the control of nuclear industry. It represents a new classification, which absorbs many areas previously considered to fall under different headings, public health, for instance, or, planning law, or certain aspects of housing law. It also includes new areas such as energy law and law relating to the countryside and animals.
In recent years there has been an increase of public concern regarding the manner in which human activity has been having a detrimental effect upon the worldwide environment. The justifications for Environmental protection are predominantly and in some sense anthropocentric. What individuals desire, and believe they have a right to, is a decent environment. Such a right, whether aimed at protecting human health and safety, or the welfare of future generations, has prompted a change in attitude whereby the management of our natural resources have to be internationally co-ordinated in such a way as to prevent the damage to the environment.
The recent growth in public awareness of environmental issues sometimes obscures the fact that environmental law is not new, and neither is the manipulation of the environment; as the social organisation of mankind developed, so did his desire and ability to control the environment. International law addresses environmental issues at several levels. There is no single sense in which an environmental issue can be described as 'international': it could be global, regional, transboundary, domestic or a combination of all or any of these.
The role played by international law in protecting the environment is not fundamentally different from, or any less varied than, domestic law. International Environmental law is not a separate of self-contained field of law. In many respects it is simply the application of well-established rules, principles, and process of general international law to the resolution of international environmental problems and disputes. Thus the subject cannot be understood without a good understanding of international law as a whole.
This being so, many otherwise novel environmental questions can be answered without the need for creating new, or developing old law. At the same time, there are environmental problems which have prompted the creation of new law, or some development or clarification of existing law. Much of this new law has emerged gradually, through a process of incremented development in the field of pollution control and conservation of the natural environment, and, more recently, in regards to problems of global environmental concern.
In its constitutional role international law provides mechanisms and procedures for negotiating the necessary rules and standards, settling disputes, and supervising implementation and compliance with Treaties and customary rules. In this context, it facilitates and promotes co-operation between states, international organisations, and non-governmental organisations, and constitutes the process of international and environmental governance, international law making, and regulation and, in a few cases, of international trusteeship.
Like national environmental laws, much of international environmental law is concerned with regulating environmental problems, setting common international standards and objectives for prevention or migration of harm, and providing a flexable rule-making process that allows for easy and regular amendments in light of technological developments and advances in scientific and other knowledge. Most of the regulatory system is based on Treaties, but soft law techniques, including codes of conduct, guidelines, and recommendations are also employed in many cases. Thus harmonising national laws globally and regionally.
The mere fact that a group of states have become parties to a treaty committing them to take measures to deal with some environmental problem does not per se ensure, or even necessarily promote, harmonization of national law. Firstly, states will often have considerable discretion in the methods of implementation they use, and possibly also in the standards and timetables they set. It is in this respect that regulatory conflicts can arise, since tile result will often be a lack of uniformity in what individual governments actually do. They may all be working to the same goal, but doing so in very different ways.
The possibility of the parties adopting the same standards does exist if they are able to reach further agreement, but in practice there may be little to stop each government pursuing its own particular priorities. Not surprisingly some treaties have for these reasons proved very difficult to implement in a co-ordinated, consistent way. Secondly, the degree and form of national implementation will largely determine how successful the treaty is as an instrument of change, assuming its objectives and techniques are themselves realistic, and that the parties intend to make more than symbolic gestures, which is not always the case.