International law is a difficult concept. Laws are created by governments. However, there is no international government that can enforce an international law. As such, they are not truly laws. An international law appears more as a suggested way for countries to behave in the global geopolitical stage. However, countries do not have to abide by the various laws. In fact, many of them choose not to for various reasons. This is also the case with international environmental laws and regulations.
As scientists around the world began to recognize the impact that humans as a species were having on the atmosphere and the environment, there was a movement towards various conventions and treaties to protect the environment. One of these was the 1985 Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. This is considered one of the most successful conventions or treaties of all time. All members of the United Nations ratified it and agreed to its provisions. This is one hundred ninety-six nations. It is considered a ‘framework convention.’ This is because it is essentially a framework on how the nations of the world would work together to achieve the protection of the ozone layer. The convention was introduced in 1985. It became effective three years later, on September 22, 1988. In 2009, it achieved universal ratification (United Nations Environment Programme, 2011).
Another convention is commonly referred to as the Helsinki Convention. The full name is Helsinki Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area. This is a localized convention. It was signed in 1992 by the countries that border the Baltic Sea Area. The goal of the convention was to ensure that the water of the Baltic Sea was not polluted by neighboring countries. Overall, this was also a successful convention. Obviously, it is easier to achieve success when it is a localized convention; there are much fewer nations involved (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, n.d.).
One of the most famous treaties of all time in the environmental field is the Kyoto Protocol. This also focuses on the climate change issue. The goal of the Protocol is to reduce significantly the amount of greenhouse gases within the environment. The treaty focused on the industrial nations of the world; it sets binding limits on the countries with regards to their greenhouse gas emissions. The treaty focuses on the industrial nations because the industrial nations are the primary ones who release greenhouse gases into the environment. This has been a controversial aspect of the treaty, particularly with the position of the United States. The treaty was signed by President William Jefferson Clinton. However, in order to be legal and valid, it needed to be ratified by both houses of the United States Congress. This never occurred. The political opposition to this treaty was because developing countries did not have to adhere to the limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, some industrialized countries, including the United States, worried that the restriction on greenhouse gas emissions would limit economic growth (NBC News, 2005).
It is difficult to achieve international law and treaties. There is no international government to enforce them. The United Nations serves as a place for countries to come together and discuss shared global concerns. As a result, they have put into place a number of environmental treaties. This predominantly impact the global community; however, there are a number of local treaties and conventions. Not all of them are ratified by the respective nations of the United Nations. The Kyoto Treaty is particularly controversial.
- NBC News. (2005, June 30). Bush: Kyoto Treaty would have hurt U.S. economy. Retrieved May 31, 2014, from: http://www.nbcnews.com
- United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. (n.d.). Water convention. Retrieved May 31, 2014, from: http://www.unece.org/env/water/
- United Nations Environment Programme. (2011). The Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. Retrieved May 31, 2014, from: http://ozone.unep.org/new_site/en/vienna_convention.php