The second phase in the development of international environmental laws began with the creation of United Nations and its specialized agencies in 1945.
This brought about a paradigm shift in the formulation and implementation of environmental laws:
(1) International organizations at the regional and global level began to address environmental issues.
(2) The causes and effects relating to pollution from certain ultra-hazardous activities came into focus.
(3) The co-ordination required to develop a coherent international environmental strategy surfaced.
(4) By 1972, a body of international environmental rules at both regional and global level emerged.
The first global conference on environment, convened by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1968 at Stockholm, known as the UN Conference on Human Environment, was the outcome of an Intergovernmental Conference of Experts on the Scientific Basis for Rational Use and Conservation of the Resources.
The Convention considered the human impact on the biosphere, including the effects of air and water pollution, overgrazing, deforestation and the drainage of wetlands, and adopted 20 recommendations adopted at the 1972 Stockholm Conference.
1. Stockholm Declaration 1972:
The Stockholm Declaration was the product of the first major international conference on environment and its relationship with humans held under the auspices of the United Nations in 1972 at Stockholm.
The Conference was attended by 114 States and a large number of international institutions and non-governmental observers.
The Conference adopted a Declaration containing 26 Principles which are designed to ‘inspire and guide the peoples of the world in the preservation and enhancement of the human environment.’
In a way, the 26 Principles reflected a compromise between those states which believed it should stimulate public awareness of, and concern over, environmental issues, and those states who wanted the Declaration to provide specific guidelines for future governmental and intergovernmental action.
The Principles are as follows:
(1) Human rights must be asserted, apartheid and colonialism condemned.
(2) Natural resources must be safeguarded.
(3) The Earth’s capacity to produce renewable resources must be maintained.
(4) Wildlife must be safeguarded.
(5) Non-renewable resources must be shared and not exhausted.
(6) Pollution must not exceed the environment’s capacity to clear itself.
(7) Damaging oceanic pollution must be prevented.
(8) Development is needed to improve the environment.
(9) Developing countries therefore need assistance.
(10) Developing countries need reasonable prices for exports to carry out environmental management.
(11) Environment policy must not hamper development.
(12) Developing countries need money to develop environmental safeguards.
(13) Integrated development planning is needed.
(14) Rational planning should resolve conflicts between environment and development.
(15) Human settlements must be planned to eliminate environmental problems.
(16) Governments should plan their own appropriate population policies.
(17) National institutions must plan development of states’ natural resources.
(18) Science and technology must be used to improve the environment.
(19) Environmental education is essential.
(20) Environmental research must be promoted, particularly in developing countries.
(21) States may exploit their resources as they wish but must not endanger others.
(22) Compensation is due to states thus endangered.
(23) Each nation must establish its own standards.
(24) There must be cooperation on international issues.
(25) International organizations should help to improve the environment
(26) Weapons of mass destruction must be eliminated.
The Stockholm Conference also proposed a new UN agency, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). UNEP has been responsible for the establishment and implementation of regional as well as global treaties addressing ozone depletion; trade in endangered species, etc.
The following global conventions were signed under the auspices of UNEP:
1. Convention on the Control of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, Washington, 1973.
2. Convention on Migratory Species, Bonn, 1979.
3. Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, Vienna, 1985, and Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, Montreal, 1987.
4. Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, Basel, 1989.
2. The World Conservation Strategy, 1980:
The World Conservation Strategy (WCS) was prepared in 1980 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and natural resources (IUCN), UNEP, and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), UNESCO, and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
It emphasizes three objectives, stressing the inter dependence of conservation and development:
a. Essential ecological processes and life support systems must be maintained.
b. Genetic diversity must be preserved.
c. Any use of species or eco systems must be sustainable.
The WCS emphasizes the need for a cross-sectoral approach to environmental protection.
After the publication of WCS, many countries produced national conservation strategies based on it. These strategies in turn simulated policies and plans as well as legislative enactment on environmental protection in a wide range of countries.
3. World Charter for Nature, 1983:
Ten years after the Stockholm conference, the UN General Assembly adopted the World Charter for Nature, which set forth principles of conservation by which all
human conduct affecting nature is to be guided and judged. It is an example of a non-binding international instrument of broad application.
It consists of a preamble and 24 articles divided into three sections: ‘General Principles’, ‘Functions’, and ‘Implementation’.
The ‘General Principles’ of the Charter concentrate on areas like respecting nature and its essential processes; These General Principles are further developed and applied to specific areas such as decision making process, planning, etc.
‘Functions’ of the Charter recommends incorporation of these principles in the law and practices of each state, and also into the practices of intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.
4. World Commission on Environment and Development:
WCED was established by the UN General Assembly and chaired by the Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. The commission was established outside the control of the governments and the UN system.
The commission had three main mandates:
(1) To critically examine the environment and development issues with a view to deal with them through realistic proposals of action.
(2) To suggest ways in which international cooperation could be fostered to deal with these issues.
(3) To promote understanding and involvement of individuals, non-government organizations, institutes, governments etc. with regard to environmental issues.
The commission submitted a report “Brundtland Report”/ “Our Common Future” on global agenda for change.
The Brundtland Report proved a catalyst for changing the direction of international negotiations on environmental degradation and conservation.
Most importantly, the report has contributed to the concept of sustainable development that firmly relates environmental degradation with developmental activities.
Although the idea of sustainability has longer history, sustainability as a physical-biological-social concept was first dealt with in the Brundtland Report.
Sustainable development is defined by the Brundtland report as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
However, the most important contribution of the Brundtland report in the international negotiations on environment comprises two aspects.
First, the Brundtand approach has placed human welfare and human beings above the concept of environmental sustainability.
Secondly, it has introduced the notion of social equity directly in the negotiations on environment.
Influenced by the agenda set by the Brundtland report, environmental matters are now being’ addressed in the context of economic matters. The impact of Brundtland report is far reaching as it has changed the direction of international negotiations on environment by relating it with development.
Polluter pays principle, differential standards for developed and developing countries and precautionary principle are some of contributions of the Brundtland report.
5. Caring for the Earth: Strategy for Sustainable Living, 1991:
In 1991, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), UNEP, and WWF again came out with a strategy.
To secure a commitment to sustainable living, this was basically a follow up of World Conservation Strategy.
Translating its principles into practice. This strategy concentrates on various areas relating to the environment like energy, human settlements, forest lands, fresh water, farm and range lands, oceans and coastal areas, etc.
6. UN Conference on Environment and Development ‘Earth Summit’ 1992:
In 1992, UNCED, popularly known as the Earth Summit, was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The primary aim of the Earth Summit (a result of the Brundtland commission) was to support the socio-economic development and prevent the continued deterioration of the environment through cooperation between the developing and the developed countries.
The summit was a landmark in a number of ways: not only were a large number of countries represented by their officials, but also a parallel conference of NGOs took place ensuring that environment was firmly placed on the international agenda.
The earth summit went beyond the previous UN conferences in emphasizing:
a. The need for international development initiatives to account for environmental impacts.
b. It recognized the need for governments and business to pay greater attention to eco- efficiency in terms of patterns of production.
c. The search for alternative sources of energy, the reduction of sources of pollution and the use of scarce water resources.
The declaration is a statement of principles or goals, which was adopted by 175 countries at the UNCED. The declaration succeeded in putting agenda of developing countries in the forefront.
The preamble of the declaration declares the goal as “new and equitable global partnership.” On the insistence of the G-77 and China, the declaration was drafted on the central theme that it was about people and their environment and development.
Unlike the Stockholm Declaration that declared the right to environment as a fundamental human right, the Rio Declaration adopted “right to development so as to equitably meet development and environmental needs of present and future generations.”
However, the declaration carefully avoids the most difficult political issues such as resource transfer, historical responsibility, lifestyles and consumption, war and environment and trade and environment.
Nevertheless, the declaration provides the most important guiding background for all negotiations on global environmental problems since its adoption.
Earth Summit Agreements:
1. Agenda 21:
Agenda 21 —provides mechanism in the form of policies, plans, programme, and guidelines for national governments to implement the principles contained in the Rio Declaration. Agenda 21 comprises 40 chapters focusing on major issues like poverty, sustainable agriculture, desertification, land degradation, hazardous wastes, atmosphere, fresh water, toxic chemicals, biological diversity, etc.
These are categorized under four sections:
i. Social and Economic Dimensions
ii. Conservation and Management of Resources for Development
iii. Strengthening the Role of Major Groups
iv. Means of Implementation
Under Agenda 21, the provisions were adopted for decision making on natural resources management to be decentralized to the community level, giving rural population and indigenous people land titles or other land rights and expanding services such as credit and agricultural extension. The chapter on major groups calls on governments to adopt national strategies for eliminating the obstacles to women’s full participation in sustainable development by the year 2000.
2. Rio Declaration on Environment and Development:
It was a supportive agreement to Agenda 21.
The declaration highlighted:
i. The importance of sustainable development practices within states,
ii. The need for developed countries to take responsibility in pursuing sustainable development
iii. The need to eradicate poverty in order to achieve sustainable development,
iv. The need of participation of women in sustainable development.
Global Environment Facility:
In 1989, meeting of the Development committee, the World Bank was asked to assess the requirements for additional funding and potential interest from donors in supporting actions to address global environmental concerns in the developing countries.
A paper entitled “funding for the Global environment” outlining the goals and general modalities were prepared for the 1990 meeting convened by the World Bank in Paris.
It was proposed to establish a Global Environment Facility (GEF) as a pilot programme under which grants or concessional loans will be provided to the developing countries to help them implement programs that protect the global environment.
Four areas have been identified for the operations of the facility:
a. Protection of Ozone Layer
b. Limiting Emissions of Greenhouse gases
c. Protection of Biodiversity
d. Protection of International waters
In two more meetings convened in 1990 a number of developing countries participated and prepared modalities for the proposed GEF which were discussed covering the funding allocation criteria, and other organizational procedures.
The GEF was restructured in 1994 to ensure governance that is transparent and democratic in nature and promote universality in its participation.
The agreed incremental costs of the activities concerning land degradation were also made eligible for the funding under Agenda 21.
3. The Forest Principles:
They are described as a non-legally binding authoritative statement of principles for a global consensus on the management, conservation, and sustainable development of all types of forests both natural and planted, in all geographical regions and climatic zones.
They are designed to encourage governments to promote and provide for community participation in development, implementation, and planning of national forests policies and urge that all aspects of environmental protection and social and economic development relating to forests should be integrated.
In addition, two legally binding conventions – aimed at preventing global climate change and preserving of the diversity of biological species – were opened for signature at the Rio Summit:
i. The Convention on Biological Diversity
ii. The United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
The convention on biological diversity had three mains aims:
i. Conservation of biodiversity
ii. Sustainable use of biodiversity
iii. Fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of its use
iv. The convention recognized that biological diversity is a common concern for humankind and set overall goals, policies and general obligations. However, it was left to the nation states to takes steps towards conserving biodiversity.
4. Cartagena Protocol:
It is an attachment to biodiversity convention. It is based on precautionary principle.
According to this protocol, adequate measures of protection must be taken in matters of transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms as the benefits and dangers of biotechnology are not fully known.
The Preamble of the convention recognizes the biodiversity conservation as a common concern, including the benefits of equitable sharing from the use of traditional knowledge.
7. UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD):
It was established by the General Assembly in December, 1992, under the umbrella of Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), to follow up on adoption of Rio Declaration and Agenda 21. The CSD has its own small secretariat and an assembly of representatives.
It was given two main tasks:
i. To monitor and highlight national initiatives in pursuit of Agenda 21 and to follow-up on questions of financing Agenda 21 (concern of the South)
ii. The transfer of technology which would enable the South to adopt more sustainable development including the mechanisms by which NGOs could become more involved.
8. RIO +5, 1997:
a. In 1997, the UN General Assembly held a special session to appraise the status of Agenda 21. The Assembly recognized progress as “uneven” and identified key trends, including increasing Globalisation, widening inequalities in income, and continued deterioration of the global environment.
b. The focus of the Rio+5 Forum was to move sustainable development “From Agenda to Action.” The forum focused on identifying key strategies and management systems for “operationalizing” sustainable development at the local, national and global levels.
c. It was acknowledged that the planet’s health was worse off than five years before, but the measures as to how to finance sustainable development were left unsettled and few new commitments to concrete action were made by different governments.
9. Malmo Declaration, 2000:
On 1 June 2000, the first meeting of the Global Ministerial Environment Forum adopted an action-oriented Malmo Declaration that helped in setting up the environmental agenda for the 21st century.
The Declaration made important references too many topical environmental issues. For example, it recognized the importance of environmental compliance, enforcement, and liability.
The preamble of the Declaration reaffirms the Southern assertion of common but differentiated responsibilities of member states. It emphasizes the need for strengthened international co-operation, while noting that commitments are meaningless if countries do not make sincere efforts to meet them.
It also acknowledges the private sector’s significant role as a ‘global actor’ and at the same time, calls for increased governmental ‘institutional and regulatory capacities’ in interactions with the private sector. It also calls upon the private sector to commit to the “polluter pays principle” and the “precautionary principle” and takes note of the role of civil society groups in increasing transparency and raising public awareness.
10. WSSD Johannesburg Declaration or RIO +10:
World Summit on Sustainable Development summit took place 10 years (2002) after the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, so it was informally nicknamed “Rio+10”.
It ended in a major disappointment as no new commitments were made to tackle any crisis and the lack of progress demonstrated the unenthusiastic response of the governments, even as the environment continued to deteriorate. It ended with weak and non-binding agreements to promote sustainable development.
11. Rio +20, 2012:
Hosted by Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, Rio+20 was a 20-year follow-up to the 1992 Earth Summit / UNCED held in the same city, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 WSSD in Johannesburg.
The conference centered on Agenda 21, the outcome document from Earth Summit 1992. It was considered revolutionary in the sense that it essentially created the term sustainable development and created the global environmental agenda for the next 20 years.