The Challenge of Sustainability
New Horizons in Environmental and Energy Law series
Chapter 5: The Range of Functions Performed by States
RIGHTS OF SOVEREIGNTY (a) Introduction Sovereignty – like property – is an equivocal concept, but the nature of the rights associated with it are fundamental to the way water resources are governed, not only nationally but also internationally. On the face of it sovereignty describes the range of exclusive rights available to a nation state within its territorial boundaries. It is generally accepted that this approach emerged – principally in Europe – about the middle of the 17th century. In this way the territory of a state, and hence the natural resources under its control, were delineated by artificial boundaries, and this has clearly had significant impacts upon the way water as a commonpool resource has been governed. Rivers, for example, may flow through the territories of several nation states and underground aquifers may similarly underlie the territorial surface of several nation states. The right to control natural resources has been a critical factor in the rise and subsequent demise of political and economic colonialism. Indeed in 1974 the General Assembly of the United Nations confirmed the importance of sovereignty by resolving that ‘every State has and shall freely exercise full permanent sovereignty, including possession, use and disposal, over all its wealth, natural resources and economic activities’. While this response may have been inspired by the emerging tensions between developed, undeveloped and developing nation states, it was tempered by international arrangements for the protection of the environment and subsequently by the emergence of sustainable development. These two doctrinal elements of international law – environmental protection...
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