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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

11 - International environmental law


Introduction: Trends in international law-making for the environment

International environmental law provides a useful example of a rapidly developing field of international law, and demonstrates some of the difficulties involved in resolving modern global problems within the traditional legal framework.

International environmental law is a relatively recent development. The environment did not feature in the Charter of the United Nations (UN Charter) and none of the UN's constituent bodies was expressly given an environmental mandate. Since the 1960s, however, we can trace a steady growth in international law concerned with environmental problems. This growth of law at the international level is mirrored by Australia's domestic environmental law experience. Both reflect the growing public awareness of environmental issues and the demand for a legal response.

Various trends in the development of international environmental law may be recognised. Historically, this area of law developed as a reaction to particular instances of harm, resulting in agreements that deal with a single issue: for example, prevention of one type of pollution or protection of a particular species of wildlife. More recently, problems that are truly global have become apparent – depletion of the ozone layer, global warming and the loss of biological diversity, for example. International agreements have increased in scope in response to these developments. They have also attempted to become more forward-thinking instead of simply reacting to a problem that has already occurred.

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Further reading
Birnie, Patricia W., Boyle, Alan E. and Redgwell, Catherine, International Law and the Environment, 3rd edn, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009
Boer, Ben, ‘Institutionalising Ecologically Sustainable Development: The Roles of National, State and Local Governments in Translating Grand Strategy into Action’ (1995) 31 Willamette Law Review307
Bonyhady, Tim and Christoff, Peter (eds), Climate Law in Australia, Annandale, NSW, Federation Press, 2007
Horn, Laura, ‘Legal Issues Arising from the Impact of Climate Change in the Asia-Pacific’ (2000) 5 Asia Pacific Journal of Environmental Law319
Rose, GregoryAustralian Approaches to International Environmental Law during the Howard Years’ (2008) 27 Australian Year Book of International Law115