B1.2 Environmental Law


Many environmental problems affect countries across the globe. Whilst local action can have an effect, issues such as transboundary air pollution requires a more combined effort. For example, countries in one continent can pollute countries in another, as their air emissions are carried across air currents and eventually settle in another country or continent.

This has been increasingly understood and acknowledged and as a result, Internal and European Laws have been passed.


International Law:

International Law includes the basic, classic concepts of law in national legal systems — status, property, obligation, and tort. It also includes substantive law, procedure, process and remedies. International Law is rooted in acceptance by the nation states which constitute the system.

Customary law and conventional law are primary sources of international law. Customary international law results when states follow certain practices generally and consistently out of a sense of legal obligation. Recently the customary law was codified in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

Conventional international law derives from international agreements and may take any form that the contracting parties agree upon. Agreements may be made in respect to any matter except to the extent that the agreement conflicts with the rules of international law incorporating basic standards of international conduct or the obligations of a member state under the Charter of the United Nations.

International agreements create law for the parties of the agreement. They may also lead to the creation of customary international law when they are intended for adherence generally and are in fact widely accepted. Customary law and law made by international agreement have equal authority as international law. Parties may assign higher priority to one of the sources by agreement. However, some rules of international law are recognized by international community as peremptory, permitting no derogation. Such rules can be changed or modified only by a subsequent peremptory norm of international law.

General principles common to systems of national law is a secondary source of international law. There are situations where neither conventional nor customary international law can be applicable. In this case a general principle may be invoked as a rule of international law because it is a general principle common to the major legal systems of the world and not inappropriate for international claims.


International law tends to be classed as ‘hard’ or ‘soft’.

Hard laws are where countries are legally bound to comply. An example is the Montreal Protocol. This covered Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and became effective in 1989. Counties are bound to meet the objectives laid out within it.

Soft laws are more principles of agreement. The obligations are not legally enforceable, but recommendations are intended to be agreed objectives for countries to take on board. An example of this is the Earth Summit (the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development) held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992.

Further information on International agreements and protocols is included in Module 2.2.

The United Nations was created on June 26, 1945. The declared purposes of United Nations are to maintain peace and security, to develop friendly relations among nations, to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems, and to be a center for harmonizing the actions of the nations and attaining their common ends. The Charter of the United Nations has been adhered to by virtually all states. Even the few remaining non-member states have acquiesced in the principles it established. The International Court of Justice is established by the UN Charter as its principal judicial organ.


International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is also referred to as the World Court. It is a permanent court of the United Nations and is based in The Hague.

It began work in 1946, when it replaced the Permanent Court of International Justice that had functioned since 1922. The ICJ fulfils two functions:

  • It makes rulings on disputes, submitted by the states party.
  • It gives non-binding advisory opinions when asked to do so by United Nations (UN) organisations and agencies.

The Court is composed of 15 judges of different nationalities who are elected to nine-year terms of office by the UN General Assembly and Security Council.

The members of the ICJ do not represent their governments, but are independent magistrates.

The judgment is final and without appeal.