Environmental protection in international law

Brief history

The environment protection still remains a current issue, facing the deterioration of our planet’s health. Every day, by now, we hear about pollution and climate change. These are problems that, for example, Greta Thunberg’s followers denounce over and over again in Fridays for Future.

But when did we really start talking about environmental protection on an international level?

The subject, on a global level, has been regulated quite recently. Faced with the damage caused by pollution - a phenomenon that, unfortunately, has no geographical boundaries - the legislation adopted by the various countries for the protection of the environment soon proved to be insufficient and the balance of the ecosystem became an objective of general concern.

This has led States to draw up multilateral, regional and bilateral conventions and to prepare instruments aimed at protecting the environment in all its forms. It is therefore, from the seventies, that environmental protection has gradually gained greater importance for the international community, which began to look at it as a global issue.

The beginning of a global awareness regarding environmental problems is marked by the United Nations Conference on Human Environment (UNCHE), held in Stockholm in 1972. From this date, the protection and improvement of the environment became a priority of huge importance in the intentions of the United Nations. In addition, in the two decades that followed, the awareness obtained through the UNCHE gave rise to numerous studies and research on the state of health of the planet, thanks also to the establishment of three fundamental bodies: UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), which together with UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), FAO, UNESCO and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), is one of the most important references for sustainable development worldwide, the “Brundtland” Commission on Environment and Development (WCED, World Commission on Environment and Development) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In addition to directly related issues to the environment, since the eighties attention has also been extended to social problems arising from environmental issues. However, until the eighties, the approach to the environment was mainly "restorative" rather than "preventive" in nature. The objective was mostly to remedy the damage caused. Only in the nineties a new perspective, based on prevention, made its way: during the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, a new approach took off, more sensitive to the social dimension and the creation of new tools through which starting a process of sustainable development.
The Rio Summit represented a turning point because, finally, the development-environment dualism was solved through the introduction of sustainable development concept; furthermore, cooperation between the countries of the South and the North of the world was discussed, thus the great powers recognized their responsibility in the production of pollution and were convinced that they had to collaborate to support developing countries.

UNCED produced a very important document, Agenda 21, which contains programmatic objectives on the environment, economy and society (signed by over 170 countries from all over the world).

Despite the 1992 conference led to the elaboration of important principles, the results to which it led from a practical standpoint were, unfortunately, unsatisfactory. Agenda 21 did not have the follow-up it had hoped for, and it was necessary to take note of the poor progress made regarding sustainable development.

For these reasons, in September 2015, 192 UN member countries signed up to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It consists of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, a grand agenda for action that includes a total of 169 targets. The Sustainable Development Goals follow up on the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals that preceded them and represent shared goals on a range of important development issues: combating poverty, eliminating hunger, combating climate change and others.

Today, however, the environmental situation cannot be defined as improved; it is still not possible to make a drastic change in the behavior of states and their populations to try to save the Earth from the devastating catastrophic risks of climate change.

Translated by Giada Franchi

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  • L'Autore

    Lorena Radici

    Lorena Radici studia Relazioni Internazionali presso l'Università degli Studi di Milano, curriculum: International Cooperation and Human Rights. Nel 2019 ha conseguito una laurea in Scienze della Mediazione Linguistica presso la Scuola Superiore per Mediatori Linguistici (SSML) di Varese, specializzandosi nel campo della traduzione e dell'interpretariato in inglese, spagnolo e cinese.

    Durante il suo percorso di studi alla triennale ha avuto l'opportunità di svolgere dei tirocini di traduzione verso la lingua inglese con la redazione di VareseNews e con l'associazione culturale della località del Sacro Monte di Varese. Sempre alla SSML ha poi frequentato il corso di alta formazione in Mediazione Culturale.

    La sua passione per le Relazioni Internazionali è rivolta soprattutto al settore dei diritti umani, dell'immigrazione e della sicurezza internazionale. In particolare, è interessata ai temi riguardanti la criminalità organizzata globale.

    In Mondo Internazionale ricopre il ruolo di Autrice nelle aree tematiche "Organizzazioni Internazionali" e "Ambiente e Sviluppo" e il ruolo di Revisore di Bozze.

    Lorena Radici studies International Relations at the University of Milan, curriculum: International Cooperation and Human Rights. In 2019 she got a degree in Sciences of Language Mediation at SSML in Varese, where she studied Translation and Interpretating in English, Spanish and Chinese.

    During the degree course at SSML she had the opportunity to do an internship in translation with VareseNews and a cultural association of Sacro Monte. She also attended a course of Higher Education in Cultural Mediation.

    For what regards International Relations, she is interested above all in human rights, immigration and international security. Particularly, she is interested in topics related to global criminal organizations.

    Within Mondo Internazionale she is an Author for the thematic areas of "International Organizations" and "Environment and Development" and she also serves as Proofreader.


Sections Environment & Development Society 2030 Agenda


#ambiente e sviluppo #agenda2030 #onu #agenda21 #cambiamentoclimatico #cooperazione internazionale

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