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International Environmental Law 101: What Will the Future Bring?


International Environmental Law 101 is a series that will dive into the manifold dimensions of preserving the environment from human destruction and economic development. The main objective of these articles is to provide a comprehensible grasp of the institutions, agreements, and principles which fight against climate change, wildlife extinction, and contamination, and foster sustainable practices.

International Environmental Law 101 will be divided into the following chapters:

1. International Environmental Law 101: How the Silent Spring Ignited the Environmental Movement

2. International Environmental Law 101: A Regime of Principle

3. International Environmental Law 101: The Decision Makers

4. International Environmental Law 101: A Map of Environmental Agreements

5. International Environmental Law 101: The Case of Temperature

6. International Environmental Law 101: The Transition to Sustainable Development

7. International Environmental Law 101: Healing the Ocean

8. International Environmental Law 101: What will the Future Bring

This 101 series set out to provide a comprehensive and informative outline of the former and current issues, policies and challenges that the environment and environmental policy face. It analyzed the principles that contextualize law, the agreements that regulate distortion, and the leaders of the global environmental protection scene. Furthermore, in an endeavour to show why environmental law's implementation and evolution is so salient, it explored the human behavior towards climate and the ocean, and how development can be achieved to not harm them. In the last article of this 101 Series, the challenges arising and the future conditions for implementing environmental protection policy in the international system will be discussed.

University of Manchester, 2020 (Photo)

The economic and social patterns of the past and present have been the perpetrators of the current environmental state, the climate crisis, the endangered biodiversity and the absolute need for sustainable development. Firstly, human society continues to maintain unsustainable trends in the consumption and production industry (UN, 2020). The linear economic model is still supported by the majority of the world even though alternative solutions, such as the circular economy model, would minimize waste and contribute to the better efficiency and sustainability of goods and services. The European Union has made further progress in this particular area, as well as that of environmental policy, in comparison to most of the international community (Le Cacheux et al., 2015).

Sustainability as a concept is used and misused by governments and global leaders whenever it fits their interests, but rarely is it incorporated in political projects and decisions of other sectors which directly affect the environment, such as tourism or energy law (Persson, 2004). Decision-makers are reluctant to take groundbreaking steps that would practically uphold sustainable development, as they are too dependent on the current infrastructure, oil and gas enterprises, and the familiarity of known practices that provide them with the necessary capital and energy security (Meredith, 2021). Transforming economic development to sustainability standards would not only spread instability, but would also require plenty of funds, which no actor wishes to lose, and an even larger amount of collaboration and partnership in a world that is divided by borders, economic and political interests, and wars (Leal Filho et al., 2022). The consolidation of sustainable development in the current international system seems rather fickle, though there is hope yet.

Green Matters, 2019. (Photo)

Analyzed above is the current course that human society is advancing on. To change this path, a deep-rooted transformation of the international organization system will be required. Currently, the international environmental policy and governance system is implemented in fragments and needs to be reorganized in a much more strict and structured framework. (Gemmill et al., 2002) New developing efforts need to be built on a foundation of well-designed mechanisms, procedures, and checks and balances that would positively serve the environmental goals. The institutional architecture is the basis of environmental law: if it remains the same, no real progress will be measured. Conventional international law, customary law, soft law, regional collaborations, and action plans all contain important factors that contribute to the future of environmental policy. Alas, they do not apply with the same level of efficiency, and some do not even apply at all, even if one is dependent on the implementation of the other. The coordination and implementation standards of multiple international agreements must be strengthened, while soft law texts must be reevaluated and entered into hard law agreements. Future agreements should be articulated in a way that supports environmental governance, servicing sustainable development (OECD, 2007).

A global governance system with integrated policy and mechanisms at a global, regional and local level would make the protection of the environment much more effective, while providing the tools for synergy on a state to state basis, in coordination with all the international and regional organizations on the field that assist them. An autonomous international environmental organization - and not an environmental programme with limited powers - will need to be established in the future, as was discussed, but not accomplished, during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development at Rio in 2012. It would have the political authority, expertise and power to support and lead decision-making and serve as a platform for productive dialogue between leaders. (Gemmill et al., 2002)


World Development Bank, nd. (Illustration)

A further issue that necessitates a fast solution, as mentioned numerous times during this 101 series, is the need for the global South to develop economically, but on different terms than the North has. Its development efforts should follow sustainable development standards, the consumption and productions patterns of the circular economy, and depend on renewable sources of energy that have fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Though unable to predict the true ramifications of the current lifestyle, scientific findings have shed light on the ways humankind has harmed the planet and what is necessary to happen. In this regard, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change researches and publishes frequent reports on climate mitigation (IPPC, 2018) in its constant effort to strengthen the global response against the threat of emissions and pollution.

The North and the South will have differentiated but shared responsibility for their impact on the environment. Developing countries are responsible for developing their industries in an environmentally friendly way, managing their own natural resources efficiently, fostering social inclusion, and becoming economically prosperous and self-reliant. Other than implementing their own climate pledges, developed countries have already assumed responsibility to help the South achieve those prerogatives by mobilizing financial capital, providing them with debt relief and restructuring. Aside from the financial aspect of their partnership, they should also enhance their access to science, technology and innovation, as well as to the knowledge necessary to use them on mutually agreed terms (UN, 2021). Thus, the North is responsible for facilitating the process, while the South is responsible for accepting the help they need. Pollution is transboundary, and developing countries are already reaping the detriments of the North's action. An alliance for a better future is part of their joint responsibility (Seth, n.d.)

Argentum, 2020. (Illustration)

The conditions for progress are complex to establish but seem unavoidable and profound. The environmental problems and unsustainable character of economic activity and societal conduct need to be recognized by all, as well as the inability of the current environmental system to challenge them. Reform should be based on scientific research, and global leaders should turn to environmentalists and ecologists for counsel. They need to realize that substantial action is required (OECD, 2007). Sustainable development should be assessed, not as a jawbreaking solution, but as the optimal advantageous course. Provided that all these transformations are implemented, the promotion of environmental protection and sustainable development should stay at the forefront of international diplomacy and not be left behind.

There is an imperative need to reform but a lack of will and consensus on the choices needed. Some will disregard those conditions and requirements as ludicrous and whimsical. In addition, complete reformation of the global environmental system will be immensely difficult. Realistically, what is more probable is the better implementation and coordination of the current regimes. However, what will benefit everyone - including the environment - is finally making a conscious decision to transition away from fossil fuel energy sources and evolve to renewables. Solar, wind, and hydro energy are sectors with unlimited potential that have known little advancement, and remain unexplored due to the 'oil and gas' madness. If the transition to them is deemed obligatory by international law, then the future might not be so bleak.


IPCC, 2018: Global warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, H. O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J. B. R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M. I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, T. Waterfield (eds.)]. In Press

Gemmill, B., Ivanova, M., & Ling, C. Y. (2002). Designing a New Architecture for Global Environmental Governance. International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

Le Cacheux, J., Laurent, E. (2015). The EU as a Global Ecological Leader. In: Report on the State of the European Union. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Leal Filho, W., Wall, T., Barbir, J. et al., (2022) Relevance of international partnerships in the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Nat Commun 13, 613

Meredith, S. (2021, April 14). What “energy transition”? Global fossil fuel use is accelerating and set to get even worse. CNBC.


Persson, Å. (2004). Environmental policy integration: An introduction. Policy Integration for Sustainability (PINTS) background paper. Stockholm Environment Institute, available at

Seth, N. (n.d.). Goal 17—Enabling a Sustainable Future through the Joint Action of Countries and Communities: A Revitalized Global Partnership for Sustainable Development. United Nations.

United Nations (2020, August 11). Sustainable consumption and production. United Nations Sustainable Development.

UN. (2021, January 5). Global Partnerships. United Nations Sustainable Development.

Image Sources

Image 1. University of Manchester. (2020, July 16). Manchester scientists see COVID-19 as historic moment for UK’s environmental future.

Image 2. Hirsh, S. (2019, August 5). What Are the Best Environmental Charities to Donate To? Green Matters.

Image 3. World Development Bank. (n.d.). World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives. World Bank.

Image 4. Bensabath, A. (2020, November 5). Environmental Accountability as the Most Pressing Issue of Our Time. Argentum.

Further Reading for Greek Readers

Τσάλτας, Γ. (2017). Περιβάλλον: Διεθνής Προστασία, Πολιτική, Δίκαιο, Θεσμοί. Εκδόσεις Ι. Σιδέρης.

Πλατιάς, Χ. (2016). Πολιτική της ΕΕγια το Περιβάλλον και τη Βιώσιμη Ανάπτυξη, Ζητήματα πολιτικής διακυβέρνησης. Εκδόσεις Ι. Σιδέρης.

Author Photo

Konstantina Manta

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