1.3 Why do we need international environmental law?
The environmental challenges facing individuals, communities, private companies and governments throughout the world are numerous and complex. Most governments, companies and civil society organisations now recognise that environmental issues are intertwined with social, cultural and economic issues.
Promoting economic growth with environmental, human health and cultural safeguards in place seems to be the path forward for most governments, but decades of environmental mismanagement have created severe legacy issues in most countries.
Two huge challenges are determining how to clean up legacy problems, restore natural resources, and achieve human health protection and health ecosystems; and designing strategies to enable future growth while protecting the environment, maintaining biodiversity, safeguarding human health, and preserving cultural and social values. This results in a very complex set of decisions for government at all levels, and a regulatory framework that is supportive, facilitating and enabling is essential.
A very summarised list of global environmental issues includes:
- air and water pollution
- climate change
- depletion of non-renewable energy sources
- environmental impacts of reservoirs and water abstraction
- impacts of mining
- invasive species
- land and soil degradation
- loss of biodiversity and habitat fragmentation and degradation
- non-sustainable depletion of natural resources
- nuclear risks and waste management
- ocean and freshwater deoxygenation
- ozone depletion
- persistent toxins
- population pressure
- waste management
Many of these problems and issues traverse national and other administrative boundaries, and many of the natural resources affected are examples of a global commons. Such transboundary challenges highlight the need for decision-making processes, management agreements and procedures for dispute resolution that go beyond the borders of individual nation states. They illustrate the necessity of creating administrative and legal structures capable of enabling ecologically sustainable and socially acceptable development.