Research Handbook on International Environmental Law
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Research Handbook on International Environmental Law

Edited by Malgosia Fitzmaurice, David M. Ong and Panos Merkouris

This wide-ranging and comprehensive Handbook examines recent developments in international environmental law (IEL) and the crossover effects of this expansion on other areas of international law, such as trade law and the law of the sea.
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Chapter 15: Responsibility for Environmental Damage

Phoebe Okowa


Phoebe Okowa A Introduction: the classical framework and its limits Although few disputes have relied on state responsibility in the modern law of environmental protection, it remains the starting point in any enquiry as to how accountability in this field can be achieved. The debate and legal writings that accompanied the increased public sensitivity to the importance of environmental values, especially after the 1972 Stockholm Conference,1 had in general taken as their starting point that any harm resulting from environmental damage entailed the responsibility of states. The precedents and examples relied on were not by any stretch concerned with the environment and their enduring value was not always accepted at face value (Schachter, 1991: 365). However, there was always an implicit assumption that the law was capable of evolution and would adapt to changed circumstances and reflect the new priority assigned to environmental values. Many of these cases had evolved and been shaped in the ideological milieu of industrialisation and laissez-faire economics that accompanied it. They were in general not sensitive to any values other than those that maximised production. In keeping with the prevailing priorities, they did not take into account the long-term environmental consequences of industrial production. Secondly, the law of state responsibility had until now been largely concerned with the interests of imperial nations and the protection of their overseas investments (L.F.H. Neer and Pauline Neer (USA) v. United Mexican States, 1926: 60; Laura A. Mecham and Lucian Mecham, Jr. (USA) v. United Mexican States, 1929:...

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