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Environmental laws
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Environmental Law List





Agenda 21.
A statement issued from the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. It comprises of a set of 27 broad principles followed by 40 chapters largely dealing with sustainable development. These are divided into 4 sections: social and economic dimensions, conservation and management of resources for development, strengthening the role of major groups, and means of implementation. Adopted on 14 June 1992.

Antarctic Treaty System.
Comprises the 1959 Antarctic Treaty and its 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (see below), the 1972 Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals, the 1980 Convention on the the Conservation of Marine Living Resources (see below), and the 1988 Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities.

Antarctic Treaty.
Objective is to ensure that Antarctica is used for peaceful purposes and for international cooperation in scientific research and does not become the scene or object of international discord. Key provisions include a prohibition against the establishment of military bases, guarantees of freedom for scientific investigation, and commitments to detailed measures for the conservation of Antarctic flora and fauna. Adopted on 1 December 1959 in Washington, D.C. Entered into force on 23 June 1961. Signed and ratified by 12 nations. 30 states have acceded since. A protocol to the Antarctic Treaty is the 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection and its four Annexes. The Protocol establishes a fifty-year moratorium on antarctic mineral resources activities in order to protect the antarctic environment and ecosystems. Signed by 36 parties.

Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.
Aims to safeguard the environment and protect the integrity of the ecosystem of the seas surrounding Antarctica, and to conserve antarctic marine living resources. Key provisions include establishing a Commission to compile data and publish research results on the status of and changes in populations. Adopted on 20 May 1980 in Canberra, Australia. Entered into force on 7 April 1982.

Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident.
Was developed under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency following the 1986 Chernobyl accident. The Convention is intended to "facilitate prompt assistance in the event of a nuclear accident or radiological emergency to minimize its consequences and to protect life, property and the environment from the effects of radioactive releases." Sets out an international framework for co-operation among Parties and with the IAEA to facilitate prompt assistance and support in the event of nuclear or accidents or radiological emergencies. It requires States to notify the IAEA of their available experts, equipment, and other materials for providing assistance. Adopted on 26 September 1986 in Vienna, Austria. Entered into force on 26 February 1987. A related document is the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident (see below).

Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident.
Also adopted following the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident, this Convention establishes a notification system for nuclear accidents which have the potential for international transboundary release that could be of radiological safety significance for another State. It requires States to report the accident's time, location, radiation releases, and other data essential for assessing the situation. Adopted on 26 September 1986 in Vienna, Austria. Entered into force on 26 February 1987.

Convention on Biological Diversity.
The objective is to conserve biological diversity and promote sustainable and equitable use of its benefits. With regard to equitable use, access to genetic resources obtained from biological material is to be shared by all parties. Parties are requested to conserve biodiversity within their borders, as well as outside their jurisdiction in certain cases. Periodic environmental impact statements are to be prepared for projects that might have significant adverse affects on biodiversity. Adopted on 5 May 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Entered into force on 29 December 1993. Signed and ratified by 179 parties as of 8 November 2000.

Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.
Objective is to protect those species of wild animals that migrate across or outside of national boundaries. Key provisions include a list of endangered migratory species and the establishment of a scientific council to provide advice. Adopted on 23 June 1979 in Bonn, Germany. Entered into force on 1 November 1983. 71 nations are party to the Convention as of 1 October 2000,

Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal ("Basel Convention").
Objectives are to set up obligations for State parties with a view towards reducing the movement of transboundary wastes, minimizing the toxicity of such wastes and ensuring that their management is as close to the source as possible, and assisting developing nations in using environmentally sound management strategies. Key provisions include notification to all parties of any prohibitions imposed on the importation of hazardous wastes and notification in the case of any accidents that occur during the movement of hazardous wastes. Adopted on 22 March 1989 in Basel, Switzerland. Entered into force on 5 May 1992. Ratified by 142 parties as of 8 December 2000.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Objective is to protect certain endangered species from over-exploitation by means of a system of import/export permits. Key provisions include appendices listing covered endangered species and those that may become endangered due to unregulated trade, as well as model permits. Adopted on 3 March 1973 in Washington, D.C. Entered into force on 1 July 1975. Has two Amendments, the first of which entered into force on 22 June 1979 and the second which is not yet in force (as of 22 November 2000). The Convention has been ratified or otherwise approved by 152 parties as of 7 September 2000.


Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution.
Objective is to protect man and his environment against air pollution and to endeavour to limit and, as far as possible, gradually reduce and prevent air pollution, including long-range transboundary air pollution. Key provisions include cooperation in the conduct of research into emissions reduction technologies, the development of measuring instrumentation, and the impacts of pollutants and reduction, and the establishment of an executive body to oversee the Convention. Adopted on 13 November 1979 in Geneva, Switzerland. Entered into force on 16 March 1983. Has been extended by eight protocols. As of 13 November 2000, the Convention has been ratified or otherwise approved by 47 parties.

Convention on the Prohibition of Fishing with Long Driftnets in the South Pacific Ocean.
The purpose of this regional Convention is to restrict and prohibit the use of drift nets in the South Pacific region in order to conserve marine living resources. The Parties agree to take measures to discourage the use of drift nets by prohibiting their use and the transhipment of catches, by drift net processing or import of products to and from drift net catches, and by restricting access of vessels using drift nets to ports. Adopted in Wellington, New Zealand on 24 November 1989. Entered into force on 17 May 1991.

Convention on Wetlands of International Importance ("Ramsar Convention").
Aims to stem the progressive encroachment on and loss of wetlands now and in the future, recognizing the fundamental ecological functions of wetlands and their economic, cultural, scientific and recreational value. More than 1000 wetlands have been designated for inclusion in the List of Wetlands of International Importance, covering some 73 million hectares. Adopted on 2 February 1971 in Ramsar, Iran. The Convention entered into force in 1975 and as of 1 February 2000 had 118 Contracting Parties.

Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment ("Stockholm Declaration").
A political declaration consisting of a set of twenty-six principles whose purpose was to lay down common principles to inspire and guide the peoples of the world in the preservation and enhancement of the human environment. Key provisions are that renewable and nonrenewable resources are to be carefully managed and safeguarded for the benefit of present and future generations, that wildlife and natural habitats are to be considered a special responsibility, and that the discharge of toxic and other pollutants be controlled. Adopted on 16 June 1972 in Stockholm, Sweden.

International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships.
Objective is to preserve the marine environment by achieving the complete elimination of international pollution by oil and other harmful substances and the minimization of accidental discharge of such substances. Key provisions include requirements for reports on incidents involving harmful substances, regulations for the prevention of pollution by oil, regulation and lists of noxious substances, and regulations regarding ship sewage and garbage. Adopted on 2 November 1973 in London, United Kingdom. Has six annexes, three of which are currently in force (as of 30 November 2000).

International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.
Objectives are to protect all species of whales from overfishing and safeguard for future generations the great natural resources represented by whale stocks, and to establish a system of international regulation for the whale fisheries to ensure proper conservation and development of whale stocks. Key provisions are to establish an International Whaling Commission, encourage research and investigation concerning whaling and whale stocks, and adopt detailed regulations for whaling. Adopted on 2 December 1946 in Washington, D.C. Signed by 40 nations as of 8 September 2000.

Malm÷ Ministerial Declaration.
Issued from the First Global Ministerial Environment Forum, which was held to enable the world's environment ministers to gather to review important and emerging environmental issues and chart a course for the future. The Declaration states there is a continued need for international cooperation on environmental issues and that commitments made with regard to sustainable development need to be implemented in a timely fashion. The Declaration calls upon the private sector and civil society to become active participants. Adopted on 31 May 2000 in Malm÷, Sweden.

Nairobi Declaration on the Role and Mandate of the United Nations Environment Programme.
A statement that reaffirms that the United Nations Environment Programme should be the principal United Nations body dedicated to the environment. Further affirms that the UNEP should set the global environmental agenda, promote coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development, and serve as an authoritative advocate for the global environment. Recognizes the relevance of the items set out in Agenda 21 (q.v.). Adopted on 7 February 1997 in Nairobi, Kenya.

Prior Informed Consent for Certain Hazardous Chemicals in International Trade.
A voluntary system established by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and United Nations Environment Programme that requires exporters to obtain the prior informed consent of importing nations before shipping hazardous chemicals or pesticides. The FAO system was established in 1985 and the UNEP system in 1987. In 1989 the two systems were merged. A legally binding Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade was adopted in Rotterdam on 10 September 1998, but has not yet entered into force.

Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.
A set of principles evolving out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro. Similar to the Stockholm Declaration (q.v.) it is a set of legally nonbinding principles on development issues. Key fundamental tenets of sustainable development are set out, including the necessity for the equitable fulfillment of developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations, the necessity of environmental protection, the elimination of unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, technology transfer, and an open international economic system. The Declaration also recognizes the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and affirms the precautionary and polluter-pays principles. Adopted on 14 June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.
Objective is to combat desertification in countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa, in a framework which is consistent with Agenda 21 (q.v.). Key provisions are that (1) all contracting parties have an obligation to adopt an integrated approach addressing the physical, biological and socioeconomic aspects of desertification and drought and (2) efforts to combat desertification must take place within the framework of sustainable development plans and policies. Adopted on 14 October 1994 in Paris, France. Entered into force on 26 December 1996. Ratified by 171 nations as of 15 June 2000.

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Objective is to set up a comprehensive legal framework for the sea and oceans and, as far as environmental provisions are concerned, to establish material rules concerning environmental standards as well as enforcement provisions dealing with pollution of the marine environment. Key provisions include: (1) assertion of parties' sovereign rights over exclusive economic zones and continental shelf areas for purposes of exploiting natural resources, (2) a definition of freedom of the high seas, (3) a statement that the sea bed shall be considered the common heritage of mankind, and (4) the establishment of rules for the prevention, reduction and control of pollution, as well as provisions that determine enforcement and liability issues. Adopted on 10 December 1982 in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Entered into Force on 16 November 1994. Signed by 158 nations and ratified by 135 as of 16 October 2000. An agreement that seeks to clarify one aspect of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is the Agreement on Straddling Fish Stocks (see below).

United Nations Agreement on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks.
Seeks to bind parties to apply the precautionary principle to ensure the sustainable and responsible harvesting of fish stocks that are highly migratory or straddle the high seas and the exclusive economic zones, as defined in the Convention on the Law of the Sea. Adopted on 4 August 1995. Signed by 59 parties and ratified by 28 as of 16 October 2000. Requires 30 ratifications or accessions to enter into force.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Evolved out of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Establishes a framework and a process that aims to commit nations to reducing their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to 1990 levels. Negotiations regarding reduction mechanisms and enforcement issues are ongoing, with a series of conferences of the parties held periodically, the latest in the Hague during 13-24 November 2000. Adopted on 9 May 1992 in New York. Was negotiated and signed by 165 states and took effect on 21 March 1994. Has been ratified by 186 countries as of 7 September 2000. A major protocol to the Convention is the Kyoto Protocol (see below).

Kyoto Protocol.
Seeks to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate. A key provision is for contracting parties from developed countries to commit to reducing their combined greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5% from 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012. Also establishes three mechanisms designed to help contracting parties reduce the costs of meeting emissions targets. Adopted on December 11, 1997 in Kyoto, Japan. As of 27 November 2000, 84 parties have signed the Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol is not yet in force. In order to enter into force it must be ratified by at least 55 parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, including developed countries accounting for at least 55% of the total 1990 carbon dioxide emissions. Has been ratified by 31 countries.

Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer.
Objective is to protect human health and the environment against adverse effects resulting from modifications of the ozone layer. Key provisions: parties must cooperate in research efforts on ozone-modifying substances and in developing activities to mitigate the effects of these substances. The Convention has two annexes that set forth important issues for scientific research and for describing the kinds of information to be collected and shared between parties. Adopted 3 March 1985 in Vienna, Austria. Entered into force on 22 September 1988. Ratified or acceded to by 176 nations as of 27 November 2000. A protocol that operates within the framework of the Vienna Convention is the Montreal Protocol (see below).

Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.
Objective is to protect the ozone layer by taking precautionary measures to control global emissions of substances that deplete it. Key provisions: sets limits on consumption and production of ozone-depleting substances and prohibitions on importation and exportation of such substances from and to non-party nations. Adopted on 16 September 1987 in Montreal, Canada. Entered into force on 1 January 1989. Ratified or acceded to by 175 nations as of 27 November 2000.


(After Bledsoe and Boczek, International Law Dictionary (1987))

Accession. Formal acceptance of a treaty by a state which did not take part in negotiating and signing it.

Adoption. A formal act whereby the form and content of the text of a proposed treaty are settled. Adoption does not mean that the treaty has been signed (see Signature below).

Agreement. See Treaty below.

Convention. See Treaty below.

Declaration. See Treaty below.

Entry into Force. The beginning of the period of the binding force of a treaty; that is, its coming into operation. Many treaties provide for their entry into force on the date of signature. Where ratification is necessary, the treaty enters into force only after the exchange or deposit of the instruments of ratification by all or a certain minimum number of states.

Protocol. See Treaty below.

Ratification. An act whereby a state establishes its definitive consent to be bound by a treaty. Typically allows states to re-examine the provisions of treaties before undertaking formal obligations and, in the time between signature (q.v.) and ratification, allows them to pass necessary legislation or obtain parliamentary approval.

Signature. The affixing of names to the text of a treaty by the representatives of the negotiating states as an expression of consent. If the treaty is subject to ratification (q.v.), then the signature means only that the text of the treaty has been authenticated and that it will be referred for ratification. However, if the treaty is not subject to ratification, then signature indicates binding consent.

Treaty. A written international agreement concluded between states or other subjects of international law, governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments. In addition to "treaty," international practice uses such terms as "convention", "agreement", "declaration", "accord" and "protocol" more or less synonymously, although usage seems to indicate that a declaration is not as binding as a convention and that a protocol is a kind of amendment.


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