The Legal Lock


territorial shelf, territorial se, sea

Origin of Environmental Law| National and International


In the last four decades, environmental law has grown at a breakneck pace, keeping pace with the rise in environmental concerns.

There was no respect for the idea of ecosystems and other major natural resources being made the subject of legislative protection prior to the late nineteenth century. Environmental law did not have its own separate domestic and international laws prior to the 1960s.

Even in the 1970s, only a few multilateral accords connected to environmental law existed, and most countries lacked an environmental legislation.

However, with the advent of the twenty-first century, environmental preservation became integrated with a nation’s overall development, and as a result, Environmental Law received the initial push, with major thrusts in fields such as public health, resource conservation, and legal actions against pollution damage.

Purpose of Environmental Law:

Environmental law is a novel concept that tries to rethink the interaction between humans and nature by creating a heterogeneous system in which both natural ecosystems and material advances can thrive without interfering with one another.

Environmental law is the result of a set of values aimed at redefining humanity’s connection with nature. Its central concept is to motivate people to engage in the service of the environment in which they live, thus paying gratitude to Mother Nature. The primary goal of environmental law is to alter people’s perspectives and instill in them a desire for long-term development.

Factors that gave rise to Environmental Law:

  1. The first is that there is a wide spectrum of environmental issues. Atmospheric pollution, marine pollution, global warming and ozone depletion, nuclear and other extra-hazardous material dangers, and endangered wildlife species are among them.
    • In two obvious ways, such issues have an international dimension. However, the situation becomes more complicated when it is impossible to tell which country is responsible for a specific type of environmental damage. This is the case with ozone depletion.
  1. Another issue influencing the formation of environmental law is the question of the link between environmental protection and the need for economic development. The optimal balance between development and environmental protection is currently one of the most pressing concerns facing the world community, reflecting the competing interests offered by state sovereignty on the one hand and the necessity for international cooperation on the other.
    • It also raises the question of how much consideration is given to the legacy left by current or planned activities for future generations.

What is National Environmental Law?

In the Ethiopian legal system, national environmental law encompasses the environmental provisions of the 1995 FDRE constitution; several environmental treaties passed by the House of Representatives pursuant to Art. 9 (4) of our constitution; and all environmental laws (federal and regional) (Forestry, Land, Water use and other sectoral laws).

What is International Environmental Law?

It is nothing more than the application of international law to environmental issues, and nothing less. Whatever the situation may be, it should be stressed at this point that overemphasis on the function of general international law would not worsen environmental problems because the traditional legal order of the environment is essentially a laissez-faire system oriented toward the utmost freedom.

Evolution of International Environmental Law:

  • Traditional Period (1900-1972): Conservation dates back to 1669, when Jean-Baptiste Colbert passed the Ordonnance et Forest, which can be considered the forerunners of today’s environmental legislation. As a result, natural resource management has been a topic of international law for over 500 years, beginning with the introduction of the Traditional Period, which gave us the first glimmers of Environmental Law.
    • It began as a core aspect of international law during this time period, when bilateral agreements were made between various states to handle disputes over shared natural resources. Everything that happened during this time was based on the ‘principle of reciprocity’ between states, and no particular environmental legislation was formed.
    • The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance was adopted in 1971 as a result of cooperative efforts by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
    • All of these events culminated in the creation of a firm foundation for environmental law that was ready to be refined and crystallized.
  • Modern Period (1972-1992): At the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972, governments from all over the world came together for the first time to identify and address environmental issues.
    • The fundamental problem at this meeting was the contradiction between economic progress and environmental protection, and it was at this conference that the concept of Sustainable Development was established.
  • The Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matters and the Convention for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, both signed in 1972, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), signed in 1973, are two important multilateral agreements associated with the Stockholm Conference.
    • Over the next two decades, worldwide environmental agreements multiplied, with over 1100 international legal instruments dedicated to the environment in some way. Countries grew competent at negotiating new agreements in short time frames of little more than two months throughout this period.
  • Post Modern Period (1992-2012): The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development kicks off this period, which lasts for the next two decades. On the twentieth anniversary of the 1972 Stockholm Conference, countries met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992.
    • The venue provided a strong statement that environmental and development problems were shared by all countries, regardless of their economic growth. Major changes in worldwide environmental law and policy have occurred in the years after the Rio Conference.
    • It has grown in both strength and breadth. Trade, human rights, and national security have all become intertwined. Old laws and principles have been redefined, while new ones have evolved.

Major developments since the Rio Conference:

  1. International environmental law is intertwined with other areas of law, including economics, human rights, and national security.
  2. Other parties, such as development banks, corporate sector actors, public-private partnerships, NGOs, and others, are increasingly defining international environmental legislation.
  3. New international principles are being developed, with their harshness increasing.
  4. The execution of international environmental agreements is emphasized.

All of these advances over time reflect a new sort of accountability owed by all states for proper environmental resource management for the benefit of all people, past, present, and future.

Evolution of Environmental law in India:

 The concept of environmental preservation in India is as old as the country itself. Men and women have worked tirelessly to safeguard and maintain Mother Earth since the dawn of civilization. Even in modern-day India, this old culture of environmental preservation may be found.

India is a signatory to nearly all of the international environmental conventions, declarations, conferences, and protocols. The Stockholm Declaration, the United Nations Environment Program, the Rio Declaration, and the Kyoto Protocol are just a few examples.

The Indian judiciary and legislature are working hard to create sound laws that are backed up by legal precedent, laying a solid foundation for environmental protection.

The jurisprudence for Indian Environmental Law was established in the case of M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, in which the Supreme Court decided that for the greater interest of the people, a synthesis of environmental and economic imperatives is required.

Industrialization should not be associated with genocide, but rather with the advancement of humanity. Then, time after time, our Indian judiciary has used the ideas of environmental law in such a way that an Indian Jurisprudence may be developed to assist lawmakers in enacting environmental law statutes that are appropriate for Indian situations.

People United for Better Living in Calcutta v. State of West Benga

In the case of People United for Better Living in Calcutta v. State of West Bengal, the Calcutta High Court stated that in a growing country, progress must be in harmony with the environment. The balance between economic progress and environmental protection must be maintained so that none hinders the other.

Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India

In Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India, the Supreme Court considered the precautionary principle and found that it should only be used in circumstances of pollution where the impact is unclear and non-negligible.

T.N. GodavarmanThirumalpad vs. Union of India and Others

In T.N. GodavarmanThirumalpad (through K.M. Chinnapa) v. Union of India and Others, the Supreme Court held that where a commercial enterprise would be of greater benefit to the people, the difficulty of a small number of people must be bypassed, and thus established the Doctrine of Proportionality of Risk.

M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath

When evaluating the public trust theory, the Supreme Court concluded in M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath that the government holds certain common properties in trusteeship for the general people’s benefit. Because these resources are a gift from nature, they should be made freely available to all and not become private property.

All of these regulations contributed to the formation and development of Indian environmental law, as well as the development of a jurisprudence devoted to Indian environmental issues.

Future Aspects for Environmental Law:

Despite the fact that various international environmental regulations have been established to date, their effective implementation remains a challenge. There are numerous contradictions that make its use in circumstances of multinational pollution impractical.

A fundamental issue with such laws is that they cause social and economic burdens, making developing countries reluctant to adopt them and, as a result, ineffective. All of these difficulties can be addressed by collaboration between governments with similar environmental policies, as well as provisions aimed to stimulate the adoption of environmental laws by providing financial and technological assistance to developing countries.

Despite these challenges, international environmental law has never stagnated and has continued to evolve. With the rising field of environmental usage, which has stretched even to space, there is a big goal for this law now and in the future.


The environment has now become a significant part of both international and domestic legislation. Every country today has at least one piece of environmental legislation. Hundreds of environmental accords exist currently, demonstrating how our understanding of the environment and its relationship to development has evolved.

The environment has suddenly taken center stage in global politics, which is exactly what is required at this time. International environmental law will be geared toward long-term risks and their reduction through intergenerational and intragenerational equity as a result of this.

There will undoubtedly be changes in the coming decade, and it will be up to us to figure out how to cope with them in order to secure long-term development for ourselves and future generations.