“The world today is economically richer and environmentally poorer than ever,” said Lester R. Brown, president of Washington-based Worldwatch Institute.
Due to increased exploitation, pollution and population growth, it is estimated that in less than 200 years, 128 species of birds and 95 species of mammals have disappeared from the globe. Throughout Europe, large mammals, including the wolf, bear and other wild cats face threats from competing land users and danger of extinction. Elephants, it is estimated, would be extinct from India and Malaysia in the very near future.
Laws cannot affect the natural processes that cause environmental changes but can and do regulate human behaviour in response to natural disasters. Though, humans have been responsible for most of the ecological imbalances, if we consider the utalitarian approach to this problem, people will protect the environment simply because it is the cardinal basis for their survival. Sans environment, an individual will be unable to survive. Law and lawyers are essential for effective protection of the environment. It is only through the rule of law that society can protect our environment and preserve our natural resources. The lawyers around the globe recognize the key role that environmental concerns will play, in industrial, social, political and financial decision making.
The decade 1990 may be viewed as a decade in which international law related to the protection of the environment really took hold. The Gulf War gave rise to charges of “eco-terrorism” and “pollution” as a violation of international war crimes conventions. Today environmental law occupies a significant position on the international public agenda. There has been a growing recognition in commercial banks that environmental concerns should and must be part of banks lending decisions.
Institutions such as World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development have strengthened their environmental policy in the past few years. Borrowers now recognize that they will have to consider and account for the environmental impact of projects regardless of the location and regardless of the lender.
There have been various clashes between the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) as well as the several environmental treaties. This resulted in the formation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) by the Uruguay Round, which aims at providing better co-ordination and co-operation between trade and the environment. In this “eco-friendly” era, the rifts between trade and the environment must be minimized. Only then will it be possible for an environmentally sound open market world economy to exist.
Private civil litigations and citizen suits have also been widely encouraged. Private individuals can sue violators of their environmental laws thereby keeping a check on any such future transgressions and bringing further conformity with the laws. Companies have responded to the environmental challenges posed by appointing special committees to tackle the environmental issues. These special committees are generally composed of four to five members at the level of the Board of Directors. They assist the Board in making decisions after due diligence of the environmental standards. Companies all over the world, especially in North America and Europe are increasingly recognising the need for a more visible and focused response to environmental issues.
Global economic development and high quality of environment both are necessary before most of the worlds population can achieve a high standard of living. One of the most significant reasons for the environmental deterioration is lack of adequate infrastructure facilities. It is clearly evident, that most of the environmental problems are present in economically backward countries which suffer from scarcity of a strong infrastructure. In order to counter this scarcity, the World Bank aims at providing finances wherein the countries can build proper institutions and undertake lucrative programmes for ameliorating the environmental conditions.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has become a widespread and popular instrument in environmental decision-making processes. It started in USA in the 1960’s and spread thereafter to various other countries. In Europe it was initiated in 1985. Slowly and gradually EIA has also spread to Australia and Africa. The EIA helps in keeping an ecological balance. It also keeps a check on the environmental effect of the proposed developments and projects. It ensures that these projects are not hazardous to the environment in any manner, but must be eco-friendly. It serves as a means of assessing the environmental implications to enact legislation, to implement policies and plans or to initiate development. The purpose of EIA is to ensure that environmental, social, economic costs and benefits are properly evaluated and accounted for so as to avoid negative impacts.
Several conferences and meetings are held every year where attendees from different corners of the globe put forward their proposals and suggestions to improve the quality of the environment. Healthy debates and engrossing discussions try extremely hard to come out with a solution to the devastating environmental problem. Various conventions and agreements result from these conferences which aim at preserving the environment.
The Earth Summit held at Rio De Janeiro, Brazil in June 1992 was primarily held to discuss the problems of global warming, depletion of the ozone layer, deforestation, air and marine pollution and other environmentally interrelated threats facing the earth. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climatic Change (UN FCCC) was opened for signature at this Summit. It was formed in March 1994, and aims stabilising the greenhouse gas concentrations at levels that would prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system. In December 1997, in Kyoto, Japan, nations of the world took a first major step in order to protect our globe from the phenomena of global warming caused by the emission of excessive amounts of Green House Gases into the atmosphere. These nations adopted the Kyoto Protocol on Climatic Change and opted to use modern, innovative and cost-effective techniques and mechanisms to protect the environment.
In June 1997, parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) met in Zimbabwe, Africa where they mainly discussed necessary steps to be taken for the prevention of trade in elephants as they were soon becoming endangered. At the end of the conference parrots, lorikeets and sheeps were further added to the list of endangered species. Furthermore in June 1997, the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the Environment was held wherein the President of the World Bank proposed certain actions to be taken to prevent global warming, protect biodiversity, stop land degradation, phase out ozone depletion and also take effective steps in water related projects.
In February 1998, the parties to the Basel Convention on Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal met in Kuching, Malaysia where a number of important legal and political decisions were taken on the universe of waste materials subject to the Convention. The North American Agreement on Environmental Co-operation (NAAEC) was a momentous effort on the part of North American countries to encourage sustainable development through supportive environmental and economic policies.
Countries all over the world have been taking serious actions and passing adequate laws in protecting the environment.
Malaysia, which is a maritime nation, places high priority on the preservation of its marine resources and the environment. The Environmental Quality Act, 1974 in Malaysia, has set up the Environmental Quality Council. This council aims at strengthening environmental legislations and curbing environmental pollution.
In 1997, China moved ahead and developed the five-year environmental “Legislative Plan”. According to the plan over seventeen statutes to protect the environment will be enacted by the end of the century.
India, one of the most populous democracies of the world, is facing a crisis situation. The environmental conditions are deteriorating, the population is growing at a rather rapid pace, trees are cut in thousands each day, the industrial development has polluted the air as well as water and the growing number of automobiles has littered the place with noise pollution. All these degenerating factors have a tremendous impact on the social, political and economic conditions prevalent in the country. Environmental law is a relatively new discipline in India, but one already substantial and complex. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 was enacted by the Indian Government in addition to pre-exiting environmental laws to provide for the further protection and improvement of environment.
Individuals as well as companies have realised the importance of environmental protection. Large numbers of programmes are relayed on television channels that emphasize the need to have a clear, greener and better environment. Recycling is a practice that has become popular worldwide and in many countries it is mandatory to recycle plastics, cans and other products. Moreover there are various legislations and rules passed to prevent the immense amount of air pollution that is caused from polluting cars and large factories. For eg. In India it is compulsory that every vehicle must undergo the “Pollution Under Control” Test at regular intervals. Moreover laws have been passed to prevent hunting and poaching of animals in several countries. Many campaigns have been held worldwide to reduce the consumption of leather and woolen articles as the manufacturing of these articles cause tremendous harm to animals.
Though over the past few years efforts have been made for conserving our forests, land, water and air, better efforts are expected. Merely the enactment of laws is not sufficient. They must be adequately enforced. The Governments of the different countries must ensure proper implementation of these laws. Moreover, individuals must themselves take care and precautions in protecting the environment. Companies, instead of relying merely on Government rules, procedures and track records whilst investing must also look to alternative institutions for guidance and look to cultural values and traditions. They must set up plants and factories in keeping with the maximum standards required for environmental protection and take care that no requirements are avoided. Let us individuals and companies realise the importance of the environment and save the world from a disaster.