5. International Environmental Law

5. The United Nations Millennium Declaration

The United Nations Millennium Declaration, entitled ‘We The Peoples’, sets the stage for an environmental agenda for the planet. At its inception, the United Nations set out to promote social progress and better standards of life in relation to freedom from want and freedom from fear.

Today, according to Kofi Annan, Secretary General to the United Nations, there is an urgent need for another kind of freedom, the freedom of future generations to sustain their lives on this planet. In the last century alone, the natural environment has borne the stresses imposed by a four-fold increase in human numbers and an 18-fold growth in world economic output. With the world population projected to increase from the current 7 billion to nearly 9 billion by 2050, the potential for doing irreparable environmental harm is obvious.

The one-fifth of the world’s population living in the industrialised countries accounts for nearly 60 per cent of the world’s total consumption of energy, and the developing world’s share is rising rapidly.

The goal must be to meet the economic needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of the planet to provide for the needs of future generations. In the hopes of a sustainable future and the adoption of a new ethic of conservation and stewardship, several challenges persist, discussed later.

 5.1 Challenges

 5.1.1 Coping with climate change

 Implementing the Kyoto Protocol would mark a significant advance by binding the industrialised countries to verifiable emission limitation and reduction targets. Stabilising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to a range that is considered safe will require overall reductions in the emission of the ‘greenhouse gases’ that are responsible for global warming. In using economic incentives to reduce global warming and promote investment in developing countries, cleaner and more efficient technologies in all sectors, especially energy, transport and industry, will be required. In engaging the private sector through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the prospect of gaining emission credit provides incentives for rich countries to make energy-saving investments in poor countries, building on sustainable development.

 5.1.2 Confronting the water crisis

 As about one-third of the world’s population lives in countries considered to be ‘water stressed’, the most serious immediate challenge is that more than 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and 3 billion lack adequate sanitation. To arrest the unsustainable exploitation of water resources, water management strategies are required at all levels, which include pricing structures that promote both equity and efficiency.

 5.1.3 Defending the soil and preserving forests, fisheries and biodiversity

 Worldwide, nearly 2 billion hectares of land, an area about the combined size of Canada and the United States, is affected by human-induced degradation of soils, due to irrigation-induced salinisation, soil erosion caused by overgrazing and deforestation, and biodiversity depletion. In terms of annual income forgone, the direct cost, alone, has been estimated at more than €40 billion a year. In addition, a more sustainable and equitable ocean governance regime is needed in the area of fisheries. Further, recycling is of vital concern, as well as reforestation which provides for future timber needs and helps to absorb carbon from the atmosphere, thus reducing global warming. As long as deforestation, land and water degradation, and monoculture cropping continue to increase, the threats to biodiversity will continue to grow. The importance of conservation is increasingly recognised, but it can flourish only if governments and industry work co-operatively to support it.

 5.2 Priorities

 The United Nations has set out several priorities for the earth:

 (a). Major efforts in public education are needed. Companies, NGOs, schools and universities, and governments have a critical role to play in raising public consciousness while at the same time increasing their contributions to a safer global environment.

(b) Environmental issues must be fundamentally repositioned in the policymaking process. The environment must become better integrated into mainstream economic policy, by way of modifying systems of national accounts so that they begin to reflect true environmental costs and benefits for ‘green’ accounting.

(c) Governments need to enforce environmental regulations based on ‘green taxes’ and the ‘polluter pays’ principle, and devise incentives for market response by way of energy efficiency and other environment-friendly practices. The private sector must play a positive role in promoting environmental change.

(d) Finally, building a new ethic of global stewardship and governance is required. Given the extraordinary risks humanity confronts, with the start of the new century and the new millennium, we must commit ourselves, peoples, companies, governments, to a new ethic of conservation and stewardship.

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