|Environmental Change and International Law: New Challenges and Dimensions (UNU, 1992, 493 pages)|
|Issues in international environmental law|
|5. State responsibility, liability, and remedial measures under international law: new criteria for environmental protection|
The experience gathered in environmental studies and the design of action plans and other means for the protection of the global environment show that things have generally worsened rather than improved. Since the 1972 Stockholm Conference,2 which served of course as a landmark in the growing awareness of the international community on the matter, the environmental impacts flowing from major disasters or simply from the magnitude of industrial operations have grown considerably. In this regard, the many plans and organizations that have emerged since then cannot generally be viewed as an example of success.
Three conclusions are particularly worth retaining from this experience because they represent a broad consensus of opinion among most authors: (1) the problems of the global environment are becoming more serious as their risks and consequences become better understood, while at the same time it is increasingly difficult to pinpoint a single source of such problems and attach a causative link to a given agent, private or public, national or transnational; (2) growing lead times are usually needed to take preventive or corrective action; and (3) some of these impacts may become irreversible if left unchecked.3
These three basic premises have had a profound impact on the nature and extent of the Law of State Responsibility and the corresponding developments in the specific field of liability, both domestic and international. Because they are based on a broad consensus in the international community, these conclusions are becoming reflected in the body of international law through gradual responses to the new needs. There are of course other aspects that have not attained that same degree of consensus and that on occasion have been objected to. These other aspects are presently mere policy suggestions that cannot form the basis for consolidation as a rule of law.
While the scientific conclusions mentioned above pertain to the consensual category, a number of ideological issues prompted by the debate on the environment do not. This dichotomy explains both the opportunities and the limits facing the development of the Law of State Responsibility and related matters as applied to the environment. In particular, it highlights the differing views about the scope of the basic principles, rules, and institutions necessary to address global environmental change.