The Concept of International Legal Protection of the Environment
The first treaties concerning the protection of the natural environment had already appeared at the turn of the century. They were primarily concerned with protecting and regulating the commercial hunting of certain species of animals. It is only in recent decades that there has been a qualitative shift in the international legal regulation of environmental protection and that States have adopted active measures in this field.
The revolution in science and technology and the rapid development of the productive forces of society have intensified the impact of man's economic activities on the natural environment, and have considerably widened the sphere of his intervention in natural processes. The intensive utilization of natural resources and the pollution of the planet's biosphere have brought the human race to the brink of a serious ecological crisis. Consequently, the protection of the environment and the rational utilization of natural resources have become urgent global problems of the modern age.
Naturally, these problems cannot be solved by the efforts of individual States alone. National measures to protect the environment must be combined with wide international cooperation at the global and regional levels. International law is called upon to play a leading role in establishing and developing such cooperation and regulating the measures undertaken by various States to protect the environment.
The international legal protection of the environment is a relatively new but rapidly developing part of modern international law. At the present time, there are a number of international treaties of different kind governing various aspects of the protection of the environment and the rational utilization of natural resources. These agreements primarily concern the following:
1) the prevention of the pollution of maritime waters, the protection and rational utilization of the sea's living resources;
2) the protection of the waters and resources of international (multinational) rivers;
3) the protection of the Earth's atmosphere and circum-terrestrial outer space from pollution and other unfavorable influences;
4) the protection and rational utilization of the animal and plant world on land;
5) the protection of unique natural objects and complexes and of individual ecological systems;
6) the protection of the Earth's environment from radioactive contamination.
The international legal protection of the environment emerged and is continuing to expand within the general framework of the progressive development of international law. Thus, the international legal regulation of the environment protection measures undertaken by different States has unquestionably been influenced by the many universal international treaties which either contain important provisions relating to the protection of the environment, or else are directly or indirectly contributing to the improvement of the planetary environment.
In addition to international treaties, international custom also plays an important role in the protection of the environment.
An important role in the development of the international legal protection of the environment is played by resolutions adopted by international organizations, and above all by the United Nations and its specialized agencies.