Compliance with international environmental law and relations between international law regimes

Compliance with I EL obligations may turn out to be a matter for other areas of international law. Clear-cut cases of compliance, falling solely within the boundaries of I EL are far less common than cases in which different branches of international law arc intertwined. Sometimes, the fulfilment of environmental obligations is not as unequivocal as it may seem.

Relationships between IEL and different regimes set up in other areas of law with an impact on the environmental realm may lead to cooperation or conflict. In some specific sectors, such as biodiversity, there is often an overlap between the objectives and the norms of the various regimes. Legal techniques to harmonise the different areas of law include interpretation methods provided by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT).

It is fair to say that in IEL there has been a transition from the ‘silo structure’ of compliance (constrained to the boundaries of a particular regime) to a more balanced and interrelated structure which takes into consideration interactions with other relevant regimes.

The main building blocks of IEL show deep connections to other branches of international law. Principle 12 of the Rio Declaration fostered the inclusion of sustainable development as a cross-cutting issue in international law by proclaiming that ‘[sjtates should cooperate to promote a supportive and open international economic system that would lead to economic growth and sustainable development in all countries, to better address the problems of environmental degradation’. [1]

The notion of sustainable development, a core concept in IEL, is far from static. Rather the opposite: The content, scope and application have varied according to the different states in the evolution of IEL. The sustainable development principle has been considered as the central principle in IEL, even though its elusive nature fluctuates between being a merely programmatic principle and being a binding principle.

Many environmental problems are cross-sectoral, which conditions the manner in which they are addressed. In addressing some crucial environmental problems such as climate degradation consistently, international law seems to be too

fragmented. Although the chapter places the emphasis on the relationship between the various areas of international law and the links to compliance, it also provides a detailed analysis of the specific sectors of IEL.

Given the complexities of the current regimes, some common features can be identified across the different sectors. First, there are some shared obstacles to global cooperation, represented by conflicting priorities, e.g. how to strike the balance between trade liberalisation and environmental protection. These conflicting priorities are not necessarily legal priorities; rather, they are political and policy-oriented priorities. Second, having overcome the idea of fragmentation in international law, one needs to acknowledge that what works well in one area may not work well in other areas. This may depend on the regulatory theories/ap-proaches taken and the evidence available to adjudicate cases. Third, the problem is not only compliance with the norm but also the effectiveness of a particular regime. In terms of the climate change regime, for instance, how the different emissions trading schemes effectively contribute to cutting down emissions. Fourth, there is a certain stagnation in the institutions that govern global environmental law and, therefore, necessitating radical changes in the structure of IEL.

Cross-fertilisation in IEL compliance by reference to other areas of international law brings its own challenges within various global environmental regimes. Network regulations and the system of international courts and tribunals help to deal with collective action problems on certain occasions, as observed in the climate change regime, but presents numerous shortcomings when it comes to other areas such as marine pollution.[2]

  • [1] Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, Principle 12, available at https://www.cbd. int/doc/ref/rio-declaration.shtml accessed 1 March 2020. 2 Jorge E. Vinuales, ‘Sustainable Development’, in L. Rajamani and J. Peel (eds), The Oxford Handbook of International Environmental Law (2nd edn, Oxford University Press 2019), available at accessed 1 March 2020. 3 Jorge E. Vinuales, ‘The Rise and Fall of Sustainable Development’, 22(1) Review of European Community and International Environmental Law (2013), pp. 3-13.
  • [2] Michael Bowman, Peter Davies and Catherine Redgwell, Lyster’s International Wildlife Law (2nd edn, Cambridge University Press 2010). 2 Peter Van den Bossche and Werner Zdouc, The Law and Policy of the World Trade Organization: Text, Cases and Materials (4th edn, Cambridge University Press 2017). 3 WTO, The Doha Round, available at htm accessed 1 March 2020. 4 The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development 1992. 5 S. Charnovitz, “The WTO’s Environmental Progress” (2007) 10(3) JIEL, pp. 685-706.