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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:

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.

Relate the discussion above to your personal experiences, and note down any examples you are aware of. Firstly, do you know of any examples in your region where government failed to implement environmental protection measures required by international environmental agreements because of local protest or objection? Secondly, are you aware of any environmental projects in your region funded by government, donor states or international institutions?