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close this bookEnvironmental Change and International Law: New Challenges and Dimensions (UNU, 1992, 493 pages)
close this folderIssues in international environmental law
close this folder4. Emerging principles and rules for the prevention and mitigation of environmental harm
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the document1. Significance and role of principles and rules of prevention and mitigation
View the document2. Traditional norms, principles, and rules
View the document3. Characteristics of global environmental change
View the document4. Double-track approach as a treaty-making technique
View the document5. Emerging principles and rules of prevention and mitigation
View the document6. Toward an international management of global environmental change
View the documentNotes

3. Characteristics of global environmental change



1. Global environmental change, e.g., rain-forest deforestation, desertification, long-range transfrontier air pollution, including acid rain, marine pollution, destruction of the ozone layer, global climate change, and the endangerment of species, is a common concern of humankind7 because it will imperil the sustainable basis for human life by threatening the security of the biosphere. Global environmental change is a common concern of present and future generations.8


2. Global environmental changes are complex and intrinsically related to each other. For example, global climate change is related to rain-forest deforestation, desertification, ozone-layer depletion, and the extinction of certain species of fauna and flora upon which human survival depends. It is therefore necessary to take a systemic and comprehensive approach to the problems of global environmental change.9


3. One aspect of global environmental change, global climate change, is particularly closely related to human activities, i.e., energy consumption and industrial and agricultural production. Hence, it becomes extremely difficult to postulate a trade-off between economic development and environmental protection.


4. Global environmental change is a good example of the fallacy of composition. For example, while rain-forest deforestation is beneficial to the economy of a certain sector of people or to a certain country, its overall effect is a threat to the entire earth and to humankind because it leads to global warming and it endangers ecosystems.


5. Because of complex interactional processes among natural environmental factors, there is a prolonged time-lapse between causes and their effects, e.g., between CFC emissions and the destruction of the ozone layer; between reduction of CFC emissions and its positive effect; between emission of greenhouse gases and global warming; and between reduction of greenhouse gases and its positive effect. Therefore, problems of global environmental change are also matters of intergenerational equity (see, e.g., Brown Weiss's chapter in part IV).


6. The effects of global environmental change are irreversible. It is virtually impossible to remedy injuries to the environment, e.g., extinction of species, destruction of the ozone layer, and climate change. Even if successful remediation is possible, it takes time and can entail staggering costs.


7. The effects of global environmental change, e.g., ozone-layer destruction and climate change, extend worldwide. All people and all states are polluters and victims simultaneously. It is therefore impossible to apply traditional principles of state liability. More importance needs to be given to the principles of prevention and mitigation.


8. The effects of global environmental change threaten to widen the gap between wealthy industrialized states and developing states. While the former may afford to adapt to the changes with their technical and economic capacities, the latter cannot rely on such resources. Thus a need arises for giving both technical and economic assistance to developing countries.


9. Scientific uncertainty is a significant factor in global environmental change. For example, in the case of climate change, the actual degree of contribution by greenhouse gases to the increase of atmospheric temperature and the extent and impacts of the greenhouse effect are not yet precisely known. Yet we cannot wait until a perceived environmental threat becomes an actual harm.


10. In view of the effects of global environmental change, it is necessary to take an anticipatory approach to solving these problems. An emphasis must be placed upon the need for carefully designed and sufficiently organized techniques of prevention and mitigation.10