Research Handbooks in Environmental Law series
Edited by Michael Bowman, Peter Davies and Edward Goodwin
Chapter 12: Common concern, common heritage and other global(-ising) concepts: rhetorical devices, legal principles or a fundamental challenge?
The purpose of this chapter is to consider some of the underlying justifications for international legal action in relation to the conservation of natural resources and environmental protection more generally. As will be explored, the emphasis is not at the level of political or strategic considerations per se, but rather upon how States express to themselves, and to the wider international community, their motivations for action. While the relevance of why certain States act in certain ways should not be underplayed, this chapter focuses upon what conceptual justifications States have elaborated to provide the legal basis for doing so. In short, it reflects on those foundational aspects of international environmental law which are at the juncture of legal framework, sovereign discretion, collective interest and normative obligation. The focus of this chapter is primarily – though not exclusively – on multilateral aspects of international environmental law, rather than upon bilateral or regional commitments, or transboundary obligations in customary environmental law. This is not to deny the relevance or the contribution of such measures to the broader discipline, but only to indicate that for the current discussion, the focus is on such concepts as common concern, common heritage and natural heritage. These – and similar – ideas have had a profound effect on the reach and ambition of international environmental law, transforming international rules in the area from the specific, perhaps even in certain instances parochial, to the truly global.
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