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A revised environmental law, rejection is not in order. (HOBY Environment 2019)

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

Essay Topic: How to Strengthen the Environmental Laws and Treaties and Promote Sustainable Growth

1946, when the hydrogen bomb was first dropped on the Bikini Atoll, few imagined that it would have an impact beyond the locality. However, time revealed that radioactive waste knows no borders. Cognizant that the same applied to toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases, world leaders devised domestic and foreign policies to minimize environmental harm and facilitate international cooperation. 

Major international agreements and conventions include the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, and Agenda 21. The UNFCCC, in particular, included the Paris Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol—both of which proved to be exceptionally effective in reducing greenhouse-gas-emissions. Besides from international covenants, domestic policies prevent pollution within the nation. Domestic policies hugely differ from nation to nation, since environmental issues affect all nations differently on the basis of various factors. (i.e.. geography) Although all nations generally agree upon decreasing air pollution, resource conservation and such universally important agendas, they place different importance for each of them. For example, Canada emphasizes natural protection as in the Rocky Mountains Park Act or the Canada Wildlife Act; the UK is notable for its protection on wildlife. These differences are also affected by various governmental structures: While the US and China have legal systems where the laws of regional administrations are subordinate to federal law, most of the other countries operate differently. For instance, states have a greater say in US environmental law, just as California was allowed to enact its own state standards instead of Federal Fuel requirements and vehicle emission standards.[1]

Prediction of future regulations

For better or for worse, these regulations are predicted to change in various respects. My prediction of future environmental law is threefold: increased international cooperation, centralization of domestic policies, and an increased focus on research and data access. 

Firstly, international cooperation will increase due to three reasons, the first being based on a cost-benefit analysis. Developing countries (i.e.. Indonesia, China, Brazil) have recently displayed signs of unprecedented growth. However, the cost of such rapid growth has been the large-scale emission of harmful substances into the environment, which affects neighboring countries as well. Thus, in the perspective of governments, it is better to altogether halt pollution by stronger international agreements, rather than to continue polluting without them. Second, governments will have greater political incentive to mitigate pollution. Environmental problems, such as air pollution, cause an increase in health care costs and inconveniences in daily life, and more and more citizens want nations to restrict other nations from unrestrained pollution. Granted, politicians such as Trump has gained power by exploiting climate agreements to appeal to voters that consider environmental protection secondary to economic prosperity. However, such actions will eventually dampen as pollution worsens and citizens directly feel deleterious consequences. Finally, developing nations have considered the environment ultimately secondary to immediate economic development. Because these nations will soon reach a decent living standard, they will begin to enforce international environmental law. A lot of these transnational treaties or organizations will have membership based on location, since geographically closer nations tend to share similar agendas. For instance, Asian nations might focus on air pollution while South American countries are concerned about biodiversity and deforestation. 

Another change would be centralization, in which a country’s central environmental agency controls relevant regional laws or government branches. For many nations, environmental regulations have “evolved piecemeal,”[2] such as the Drinking Water Act that had inconsistencies in its implementation. The responsibilities of different environmental agencies overlap, whereas some laws lack suitable agencies to enforce them. While these problems have not been so serious in the past, environmental law has recently become much more elaborate, and thus necessitated more clarification and division of responsibilities. Such recent developments have put more emphasis on streamlining environmental agencies, and governments will attempt to centralize such practices. 

Data access and research will be also an area of focus, as there has been increasing focus on the veracity of climate change research. At least for now, there seems to be sufficient critical mass among the citizens to demand a thorough investigation on climate change. Along with the development of artificial intelligence and statistics, these researches will only become more efficient, such as the integration of 30 climate models that allowed a deeper insight into climate modelling.[3] These researches will convince more members of the public that ignore scientific data. 

Domestic Policy Proposals

Eventually, as pollution worsens, it is likely that environmental law will be strengthened. However, such a change will happen after pollution worsens, which will be costly and damaging to citizens; thus, governments must act more proactively and preemptively. Needless to say, nations must adopt stricter standards and regulations. Nations may also create specialized courts focused on environmental jurisdictions to promote “green justice” as in the USA, Australia, and Brazil.[4]

However, A major obstacle for stricter environmental regulations on corporate actions is the frequent allegation that they stunt economic growth. Thus, nations must focus more on market-based approaches that induce eco-friendly consumer behavior and corporate actions. These approaches include tax breaks for corporations, tax credits for consumers, and subsidies for eco-friendly goods. Not only would these policies increase eco-innovation within the country, they would also cause foreign eco-innovators to expand to previously unexplored markets. Such a policy has already proven its efficiency, as Norway’s “aggressive electric-vehicle incentives” is estimated to cut off CO2 emissions by one-thirds until 2050. The US government’s tax subsidies for electric cars is another paragon of such action, as it eventually developed the multibillion-dollar worth firm Tesla.

In addition, nations must recognize that social inequality often renders environmental law ineffective. Eco-friendly products are often expensive, as they require more efficient new technology. Thus, a society with less income inequality means that more individuals can consume eco-friendly goods rather than their environmentally harmful counterparts—and the corporations’ profit returns for further research and development. It is essential that nations focus on “complementary policies” that reduce social inequality to maximize feasibility. 

International treaties and Political alternatives

Granted, some environmental policies are difficult to implement in impoverished nations—particularly due to the high cost of enforcement and implementation. Therefore, developed nations must lead the way in combating climate change, in ways such as paying greater amounts for combating climate change, subsidizing eco-technology for developing countries, and assisting developing countries to create economic policies that ensure sustainable development. This measure is also in accordance with the polluter pays principle, where an entity’s environmental responsibility is proportional to the degree of harm it has inflicted, since developed nations have been major polluters in the past. 

Furthermore, nations must adjust their policies and treaties accordingly with globalization. As the wave of globalization continues to reach the shores of the remotest nations, global trade only continues to increase. Many multinational corporations move to developing nations that have looser environmental regulations, while developing countries tend to maintain such loose regulations for foreign investment. Developed nations could again assist other developing nations by monitoring if their multinational corporations are adhering to environmental policies. 

Finally, nations must establish and fund an international panel of scientists from various fields of research, dedicated to climate research. Scientific research on human-inflicted climate change has not yet produced a verdict, and mutual distrust between climate change opposition and activists is rampant. Insufficient evidence regarding human-inflicted climate change creates fractures on burden of proof, degrading the basis of environmental law.


As the OECD report climate 2030 put it, “the price of current action is affordable, but the cost of inaction is high.”[5] Without effort, change will eventually come in the form of international cooperation, centralization and increased focus on data access. However, it is critical to take preemptive action on both a domestic and international level, in ways such as but not limited to market-based approach, adaptations to globalization, and implementations of complementary policies. Before it becomes to late to reverse environmental destruction, reform policies more effective.  

[1] Reitze, Arnold W, and Arnold W Reitze. 2010. Air Pollution Control And Climate Change Mitigation Law. Washington, DC: Environmental Law Institute.

[2] Nolon, John R. 2003. New Ground. Washington, D.C.: Environmental Law Institute.

[3] Snow, Jackie. 2020. "How Artificial Intelligence Can Tackle Climate Change". National Geographic.

[4] Pring, George W, Catherine Pring, and Lalanath De Silva. 2009. Greening Justice. [Place of publication not identified]: Access Initiative.

[5] OECD Environmental Outlook To 2030. 2008. Paris: OECD.


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