The effectiveness of international law in 'greening' the economy.

Author:Hossain, Kamal

This panel was convened at 9:00 am, Saturday, April 12, by its moderator, Elizabeth Dowdeswell of the Council of Canadian Academies, who introduced the panelists: Rebecca Bratspies of the City University of New York School of Law; Dan Esty of Yale University; Markus Gehring of the University of Cambridge; and Kamal Hossain of Dr. Kamal Hossain & Associates. *


By Kamal Hossain ([dagger])

The challenge facing the international community--that of furthering economic development while at the same time protecting the environment--has only grown more formidable since it was identified at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. In the twenty years since then, sustainable development has been invoked by states to promote appropriate strategies and policies. The perception has grown that the implementation of such strategies and policies is being impeded by global power realities. This has resulted in the persistence of policies and practices that lead to ecological degradation and pollution, as well as industrial economic policies impeding sustainable development, social and economic equality, and gender justice.

According to some who point to the crisis of the Rio institutions (in particular the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), sustainable development policies have had limited success. However, there have been positive contributions towards integrating environment and development. Under the Stockholm Declaration of 1972, states committed themselves to adopting an integrated and coordinated approach to their development planning and to ensuring that their development was compatible with the need to protect and improve the human environment. Twenty years later, the 160 participating states at the Rio Summit were able to adopt two soft-law documents--the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and Agenda 21, both stressing the interconnectedness of environmental with social and economic concerns. The Rio Declaration recognized the rights to development (Principle 3) and poverty alleviation (Principle 5) as key aspects of sustainable development. There was a recognition in the Declaration that both developed and developing states were to adopt policies protecting the environment but that developed states were expected to change their patterns of consumption and production which had caused the majority of the environmental harm and which were compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

It has rightly been observed that at the end of thirty years the legacy of Rio is one of unfinished business. (1) The Rio Declaration was expected to evolve towards an Earth Charter. The Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), Maurice Strong, had hoped that the Earth Charter could be adopted at the fiftieth anniversary of the...

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