As discussed in previous chapters, the regulation of the sources of atmospheric, water and soil pollution has been one of the primary concerns of international environmental law, from the perspective of both customary and treaty law. This ‘first generation’ of environmental problems has, in fact, led to the adoption of many domestic laws and international instruments. In general, we can consider this body of law from two different angles, namely the protection of a specific object and the regulation of a particular source of pollution. A combination of these two angles is also possible (for example, the protection of a specific object from a specific source of pollution). A few examples will illustrate this point.
An important aspect of the instruments that we have studied in previous chapters is that they are designed to protect a certain object against various threats, including pollution (e.g. as a factor in habitat degradation). This applies, in particular, to many conventions on the protection of species, spaces and biodiversity. Conversely, other instruments are structured in such a way as to regulate specific sources of pollution (e.g. operational discharges, oil spills, dumping or the incineration of wastes, emissions of certain substances that pollute the atmosphere, the production and consumption of certain substances that deplete the ozone layer, or the emission of certain substances that have an adverse effect on the climate). The goal pursued by these instruments is often to protect a specific object (e.g. the marine environment, the ozone layer, the climate system). However, their focus is on some (not all) threats to such objects, which have often been added progressively at a pace dictated by the understanding of their environmental implications as well as by political feasibility. Alternatively, the regulation of these pollutants may be aimed at the protection of various objects simultaneously, whether they are clearly identified or not.
This chapter focuses on the regulation of certain substances and activities with specific hazards or risks, not as regards a specific object but, more broadly, the environment and/or public health. Among the many instruments potentially relevant in this connection, we focus only on those aimed at the prevention and control of these substances and activities. Instruments providing for compensation for damages resulting from the use of these substances or the conduct of such activities will be studied in Chapter 8.