A profound fact of environmental protection and conservation is that the impacts of human-induced processes on the environment must be measured and the performance of the processes be assessed, policies be created on this basis and integrated into developmental processes and that the practice and implementation of these policies must be adequate. Most international agreements for the environment aim towards these objectives such that a process and discipline are present in the management and regulation of how we approach our natural environment. For this procedure to take shape, organization is needed not just at the local or national level but also at the international level wherein the agreement reached between numerous participating parties also requires the consent of individual signatories. This is important because harmful effects on the environment cannot be seen as affecting one nation or people in isolation. They are far-reaching to impact the earth in complex ways.
The legal definition of the environment signifies the interaction between human actions and processes and the natural world. However, humankind does not understand the ecological process or the ways nature works in totality nor can it anticipate all the impacts that particular processes might have in concatenation.
Some level of organization is required to bring a sense of how humankind can approach these processes. Laws and international agreements represent such a form of organization whereby co-operation can be sought amongst diverse participants, despite having their own problems, concerns and agendas. As such, many Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) have been introduced at the international level. They seek to create international co-operation among member states and also between organizations and individuals by creating procedures and institutional rules based on international law.
International treaties are defined under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1969 as an ‘international agreement concluded between states in written form and governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments and whatever its particular designation’. A convention or a treaty thus is an instrument that creates legal rights and obligations between those signatory to the treaty (CEL, undated). A country needs to be a signatory to the treaty for its effective implementation.
International Environmental Agreements and India
With the introduction of forward-thinking concepts such as sustainable development along with a growing global awareness to protect the environment in recent decades, nation states feel an increasing need to participate in international treaties for environmental regulation. There is a particular concern with safeguarding steadily diminishing reserves of natural resources, which can be attained through cooperation among the countries. India is party to many such international agreements concerning the management of the environment. Some of the important agreements are as follows:
The Antarctic Treaty (Washington, 1959)
The Antarctic Treaty was framed with the objective that the Antarctic shall continue to be a zone that shall be used for peaceful purposes only and shall not become an object of international discord. The treaty covers the area south of 60oS latitude and is known as the Antarctic Treaty Area (ATA) and imbibes the suspension of territorial claims, prohibition of all military activities in the region, freedom of scientific inquiry, and international co-operation in scientific activities. India signed into the Antarctic Treaty system in 1983 as a Consultative Party Member (CEL, undated).
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES), 1973
CITES was signed in March 1973 for the regulation of international trade in endangered species of wild flora and fauna. India had signed the agreement in July 1976 and the Director, Wild Life Preservation is India designated CITES Management Authority (MoEF, 2018). Although CITES seeks to prevent and control trade in endangered species, it should not be interpreted as overall conservation of endangered species of flora and fauna.
Montreal Protocol on Substances that deplete the Ozone Layer (to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer), 1987
Also known popularly as the Montreal Protocol, the protocol set targets aimed at a reduction in the production and consumption of ozone depleting substances (ODS) and came into force in 1989. The protocol also recognizes the obligations of nations in reducing emissions of ODS in terms of financial and technological abilities and identifies countries that are larger contributors than others. The Montreal protocol was adopted by India in September 1992. In order to supplement the protocol, the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF), GoI has formed an Ozone Cell as well as constituted a steering committee on the Montral Protocol in order to implement the India Country Program (World Bank, undated).
Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes, 1989
Known popularly as the Basel Convention, the convention aims for a reduction in the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes. The Convention sees to it that creation of hazardous wastes is minimized. It also prohibits shipment of hazardous waste to countries unable to dispose of the hazardous waste in an environment-friendly manner. India ratified to the treaty in 1992 and included some provisions of the Basel Convention in The Indian Hazardous Waste Management Rules Act, 1989 (World Bank, undated).
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 1992
The UNFCCC aims to regulate greenhouse gas emissions through international co-operation and agreement to bring emissions to a level that that can offset the effects of global warming and climate change. India became a member of the convention in 1992 and went on to ratify it in 1993. As a developing nation (as per the UNFCCC at the time), India was not bound to commitments for mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. This changed, however, with the Paris Agreement of 2015 whereby India has a commitment to participate in multilateral negotiations under the UNFCCC. In this India has shown leadership in moving ahead with policy frameworks that includes the National Environment Policy (NEP) and the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC).
Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) provides a legally binding framework for the conservation of biodiversity, sustainability in use of biological resources and the equitable sharing of benefits and knowledge that arise in the case of the usage of biological resources. The convention was enforced in 1993 and a complex set of requirements was introduced for nations to ensure the preservation of biodiversity and natural habitats along with their sustainable us.
The Nagoya Protocol was adopted in 2010 to propagate the continued development of the access and benefit sharing framework in the Convention. The Article 6 of the CBD instructs parties to the convention to form national programs and strategies sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity. It also integrates them into national developmental plans and policies (MoEF, 2018). India passed the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 providing a legal framework for addressing biodiversity in the count. India has taken numerous other policy actions following the convention such as participating in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) and the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), 1995 including biodiversity conservation in various national legislations.
Agenda 21 is a product of the Earth Summit organized by the United Nations (UN) that took place in Rio de Janerio, Brazil in 1992 to include stakeholders in a non-binding action plan for achieving sustainable development. The stakeholders included local and national governments, business, international organizations, citizen groups and non-governmental organizations. The international community met again ten years later at the World Summit on Sustainable Development and reviewed developments to forge global partnerships for the implementation of Agenda 21 (World Bank, undated). India is signatory to Agenda 21 and has sought to align various parts of its development infrastructure such as energy, transport, industry, water facilities, climate change policy, forests, biodiversity, ecosystems, marine and coastal management, land policy, agriculture, urban governance and human resource development.
UN Convention on Desertification, 1994
The UN Convention on desertification was formulated in 1994 and seeks a bottom-up approach to build international co-operation in combating desertification or addressing policy in regions prone to droughts. The participation of local users of land and non-governmental organization is sought in this convention within policy activities concerned with the regulations for and alleviation of desertification in terms of its related effects. South Asia has a Regional Action Program with seven countries signatory to the convention including India.
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is a supplement to the Convention on Biological Diversity and provides an international regulatory framework for the safe use, transfer and handling of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) i.e. genetically modified organisms resulting from biotechnology. The protocol came into force in January 2000 and was the first such protocol of its kind (MoEF, 2018). The protocol was negotiated under the Convention for Biological Diversity and aims to provide protection against the exploits of modern biotechnology. As a part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, India is party to what is also called the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety as well.
Prior Informed Consent, Rotterdam Convention
Also known as the Rotterdam Convention, the treaty looks to promote shared responsibility in the trade of hazardous chemicals. It came into force in February 2004. The convention also looks to promote the environmentally safe use of the hazardous chemicals by supporting a national decision making process on their export and import by facilitating information exchange. India ratified the treaty in 2005 (MoEF, undated).
Other such agreements include the International Tropical Timber Agreement and The International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO), 1983, 1994 which came into force in 1985 with the formation of the ITTO. India ratified the ITTA in 1996. Many other agreements have signed by India including the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (Paris, 1972); the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar, 1971); the Convention Relative to the Preservation of Fauna and Flora in their Natural State (1933); the International Plant Protection Convention (1951); the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil (1954); the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Bonn, 1979); the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident (1986); the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Montego Bay, 1982) and the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctica Treaty (Madrid, 1991) (CEL, Undated).
International environmental law has witnessed extraordinary changes in the last few decades since the United Nations Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Since then there have been numerous legal documents on humankind’s interaction with the natural environment and for environmental protection. These international legal documents have existed alongside numerous domestic regulations in many countries.
In India after the Stockholm Conference in 1976, the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution was introduced, in which Constitutional Sanctions were given to concerns over the environment as per Article 48-A and Article 51-A(g). Article 48-A in the 42nd Amendment placed environmental protection as the responsibility of the State Government under the Directive Principles of State Policy. Article 51-A(g) made environmental protection and care a Fundamental Duty for citizens of India (environmentallawsofindia.com, 2018).
Environmental laws in India have thus been greatly influenced by international legal developments and the country has tried to adapt its policies to the international legal environment.