The Global Environment and International Law – Books of Note

The Global Environment and International Law – Books of Note – Book Review

Jeremy Firestone

THE GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT AND INTERNATIONAL LAW by Joseph F. C. DiMento; University of Texas Press, Austin, Tex., 2003; 256 pp., $21.95 paper (ISBN 0-292-71624-9)

This book addresses the broad field of international environmental law (IEL). IEL is a multilayered, complex field that encompasses hundreds of international agreements and looks and feels a little like U.S. domestic law. IEL is premised on cooperation and shared responsibility, with little involvement of judicial organizations, and its progressive development is grounded in norms such as sustainable development, the precautionary principle, international equity, and cultural diversity. IEL spans a wide range of topics (such as climate change, seabed mining, biodiversity, and marine pollution) and interests (such as developing states, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, maritime powers, and indigenous peoples) and varies in scope (bilateral, regional, and global); institutional arrangement (United Nations organizations, autonomous intergovernmental organizations, and hybrid international-nongovernmental organizations); and mechanism (such as, framework conventions, custom, and soft law).


IEL raises numerous questions: What leads states to cooperate, create, and comply with IEL? Which mechanisms facilitate IEL development? Should an issue be approached globally or regionally? How should science be integrated into politics and law? Which legal approaches have been successful (or unsuccessful) in which situations and why? While briefly touching on some of these questions, this book focuses only on the last one.

Author Joseph F. C. DiMento considers both regulatory and nonregulatory approaches and provides a useful overall accounting of IEL effectiveness. He then evaluates five cases (three global: ozone depletion, climate change, and transboundary movement of hazardous waste; one regional seas agreement; and the North American Free Trade Agreement) and generalizes from that evaluation. While any student of IEL will be familiar with many of his recommendations–increase participation, enhance cooperation among regimes–he also takes a more controversial stand, one that is rooted in U.S. law, in his call for more reliance on civil liability.

Although the text appears to be written for nonspecialists and undergraduates, terms of art are introduced but left undefined until later. In addition, the case studies cover only a narrow range–three have UN Environment Programme roots. Would DiMento have come to the same conclusions had he considered vessel-source pollution, seabed mining, biodiversity, or a developing country regional seas agreement? The book thus may be most valuable to those who are interested in one or more of the specific case studies. And while the text is timely, one wishes the author had discussed the implications of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg. Finally, the text leaves one wanting answers to the other questions raised by the field of IEL posed above.

Jeremy Firestone

College of Marine Studies

University of Delaware


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