|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 conclusion that emerges from all of the foregoing is that the law of state responsibility, including its aspects relating specifically to liability, is not at all inefficient or ineffective in the environmental field. The state of international law has evolved rapidly. As a result, the basic conceptual instruments and rules necessary to deal with the new requirements of environmental protection are available. These include both the traditional restoration and compensation mechanisms for when harm has ensued and the new emphasis on preventive measures. The state's conduct is governed by a large number of primary rules, while secondary rules are being perfected and extended to induce compliance and safeguard the environment.
A number of new approaches are being suggested in order to meet the needs of global environmental change. Conceptual innovation is rapidly influencing the new thinking of international law on the matter. Among the specific mechanisms that have been proposed, some are useful and reasonable and some are not. The former will no doubt lead in the short and medium term to the development of new rules of international law, a number of which are already in the process of formation; the latter will probably lack the necessary consensus.
In this, like in any other matter, international law responds with a difficult process of harmonization of interests. Concern for the environment is one interest in which the interests of states and humankind as a whole coincide. This is not true, however, with respect to the specific policies and rules that could be enacted and enforced. While for a number of industrialized countries environmental considerations are a top priority, for many developing countries the priority lies in production and economic performance. Very strict environmental standards in the former often contrast with ideas such as "debt-for -nature" swaps that are prevalent in the latter. Convergence of views will take time and effort.
Because international law relies on the harmonization of interests it tends to avoid extreme solutions. In this regard it can be expected that international law will not allow environmental degradation and will develop the necessary rules and institutions to ensure this fundamental obligation. But it can also be expected that it will not favour a kind of world ecological government that might subject states, individuals, and corporations to a highly regulated discipline contrary to sovereignty, freedom, or economic efficiency. To the extent that such a vision underlies some of the proposals being advanced, they are unlikely to be adopted.