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University of the Basque Country
Information
  • Date submitted: 28 Oct 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Submission Document: Download
  • Additional Document:

International Environmental Law and new sovereignty (Proposal for Rio+20 compilation document) by Dr. Xabier Ezeizabarrena1 (Phd Law, University of the Basque Country), Abstract

This proposal tries to underline the international general experience on Environmental disputes within the contexto of Rio+20 process, in particular from the point of view of concerned individuals and NGOs. In this sense there is a need for international alternative settlement of environmental conflicts. However, states and their subdivisions are reluctant to submit themselves to such adjudication, especially in the relationship with individuals and NGOs. Although one may safely state that the international law of the environment is on the road to strengthening the role of non-state actors, there is still a long way to go before access of these actors to international adjudication will be fully recognised. Therefore, there is real need worldwide for an open debate and proposal on an international forum for making available the need for international resolution of environmental disputes. The pending international challenges on Climate Change would find here another reason to push forward in terms of international solidarity and new sovereignty on environmental matters.

Environmental Rights as a Key Point of the Rule of Law

During the second half of the 20th century we have seen the development, either under international or domestic laws, of certain ethical and political parameters and rules called human rights. The development of human rights law is demonstrated by the establishment of, for instance, the European Court of Human Rights2 (ECHR) and the provision, in many constitutions, of systems for an effective judicial protection of these rights. The purpose of environmental rights law is to reach certain common legal grounds to achieve a similar international framework of law for sustainable development.

Reality, however, demonstrates otherwise. Subject to a few exceptions, national courts do not assume the existence of the required customary or principles of international environmental law necessary for individuals, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and municipalities to derive claims from their violation.

Judicial Protection of Environmental Rights

Existing mechanisms

The current lack of judicial protection of environmental rights by recourse to national courts is not compensated through the availability of international judicial review. There are various international dispute settlement mechanisms which address environmental issues in specific contexts, such as the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the Court of Justice of the European Community (CJEC) and the ECHR. In addition, there exists an environmental chamber of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), though it has not often been accessed by governments for a variety of reasons. Furthermore, decisions of the World Trade Organization?s (WTO) dispute settlement bodies may also affect environmental matters. The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) is also actively working in this field during the last years.

Need for international arbitration and conciliation and eficient enforcement of international environmental law

One of the main tasks of institutionalised arbitration and conciliation of environmental disputes is to protect the rights of peoples to an adequate environment by granting individuals and non-governmental organisations access to justice. Arbitration could also develop a substantive right to a healthy environment based on existing international human rights, principles previously mentioned, as well as statutory law applicable under the relevant conflicts rules. This would comprise prevention, restitution and compensation of environmental harm. The deficit analysis presented above clearly shows that individuals and NGOs are not adequately protected in international environmental disputes. Their role must be strengthened in order to achieve sustainable development.

This proposal argues that there is a need for international enforcement, arbitration and conciliation on environmental international matters. However, the relative success of international courts dealing with environmental issues does not mean that every single petition reaches the final procedural phase misleading, in many cases, the real protection of environmental rights. Therefore, new concepts of sovereignty within a general proposal of international environmental justice should be fostered within the international arena.

The path forward

The experience of the enforcement International Environmental Law in general shows that from the point of view of concerned individuals and NGOs, there is a need for an international alternative dispute settlement mechanism to deal with environmental conflicts. However, given their relationship with individuals and NGOs, States and their subdivisions are reluctant to submit themselves to such adjudication. Although one may safely state that the international law of the environment is on the road to strengthening the role of non-state actors, there is still a long way to go before the access of these actors to international adjudication is granted full recognition. In light of its flexible procedure for issuing consultative opinions, its independence and broad scope of legitimacy, there is a clear space to offer an open study and debate on the necessity of an international forum for the international resolution of environmental disputes.

In terms of Human Rights this proposal would become a clear example of an open field within the law for sustainable development which is open for new developments. Once again in this context, international law seems to start assuming a shifting process within the concept of sovereignty. Thereby, the system could take advantage of this sort of procedures whenever the involved parties may assume the voluntary jurisdiction of a real international universal jurisdiction. This challenge is nowadays a key element for the development and real enforcement of the whole principles and rules of sustainable development, even for the direct protection of individuals or collective rights of legal persons. Therefore, we have a pending challenge open towards and within Rio+20 context.
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