Global Environmental Law & International Treaties

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  • 0:06 A Global Issue
  • 1:40 Gases & Toxicants
  • 3:37 Fisheries & Oceans
  • 4:44 Nuclear Problems
  • 6:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

We all share Earth's resources and must work together to protect them. There are many international laws and treaties dealing with environmental issues. In this lesson, we'll give you a brief introduction to some of the major ones you should know.

A Global Issue

Environmental issues may be garnering a lot of attention these days, but they're nothing new. Since as far back as the first century CE, people have been concerned about environmental health. They didn't have cars emitting greenhouse gases into the air or massive oil spills in ocean waters. But they did have problems like air pollution from wood smoke, which caused them to complain to their government officials and ask that they find solutions.

Today, with over seven billion people on the planet, things like air and water pollution, resource allocation, habitat destruction, and the burning of fossil fuels put environmental issues at an entirely new level. Our resource consumption and use have reached unprecedented levels, which has in turn led to an increase in the number of environmental policies and regulations around the world. Environmental policy is policy that deals with human interactions with the environment. This type of policy focuses on the regulation of resources and the reduction of pollution. The regulations are generally designed so that they contribute to human welfare and the protection of natural resources.

And because environmental issues don't give any thought to state, country, or regional boundaries drawn by humans, international cooperation is needed. There are so many international environmental laws that we simply can't go through them all here. What we will do instead is highlight some of the major ones so that you can become familiar with the types of issues they deal with.

Gases & Toxicants

Air pollution is one of the most important environmental issues we face today. Good air quality is essential to a good quality of life. And because we all share the same air, this definitely qualifies as a problem requiring international cooperation.

CFCs, or chlorofluorocarbons, which generally come from refrigerants and aerosols, are very harmful to the ozone layer. To combat this, the Montreal Protocol was designed in 1987 to significantly reduce the global use of CFCs. To date, 197 parties have signed this agreement, which has helped reduce CFC production and use by almost 95%, allowing the ozone to begin to recover.

To specifically address greenhouse gas emissions, the Kyoto Protocol was drafted in 1997. This agreement set binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions from the signatory nations. The initial period of the protocol ran from 2008 to 2012, and in 2012, a second period of commitment was proposed, but far fewer countries agreed to commit to this extended time frame, including the U.S.

Another major pollution issue is persistent organic pollutants, or POPs. These are toxic chemicals that persist and accumulate in the environment. They can last for long periods of time, travel great distances, and build up in animal tissues. POPs include things like PCBs, DDT, and many other pesticides and industrial chemicals.

The Stockholm Convention on POPs was designed in 2001 to deal with POPs and their environmental impacts. The goal of this convention is to eliminate the use and release of 12 specific POPs, nicknamed 'the dirty dozen.' These POPs were considered to be some of the most dangerous in the world and the convention not only sets forth guidelines for phasing them out, but also encourages the use of safer alternatives.

Fisheries & Oceans

Pollution doesn't just occur in the air. Water covers about 70% of Earth's surface and provides a home to a large portion of the world's living organisms, so it's an important international resource to protect as well. There are several major laws dealing with marine pollution and resource protection.

MARPOL, which stands for 'Marine Pollution', is actually named the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. This law of 1973 aims to minimize ocean pollution from ships, such as oil and exhaust, dumping, and any other intentional or accidental source of ocean pollution.

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