Workshop on International Law, Natural Resources and Sustainable Development

Workshop on International Law, Natural Resources and Sustainable
International Environmental Law and Natural Resources
John McEldowney
School of Law, University of Warwick
The objective of the paper is to discuss sustainable development and its value in reconciling
interests of developing countries in controlling and protecting natural resources with the
interests of the international community. China and India are fast becoming the world’s
largest carbon emitters, India accounts for 83% of the worldwide increase in 2011-12 and
China ranked as the largest carbon emitter. The shift in economic power from Europe and
America to China and India sets new challenges for sustainable development and the need
for new strategies and policies. The signs are not encouraging and the outcome of any new
strategies unpredictable. Sustainable development has failed to mitigate global warming
particularly in the response of developed nations. The chances for strategies to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions and to have success in developing economies are slim unless
fresh steps are taken. Some form of enforceable regime in international law to reduce the
rate of greenhouse emissions is necessary and the protection of carbon sinks such as rain
forests. Alternative suggestions may not be feasible. Slowing economic growth may not be
possible or even desirable given the fragility of the world economy. Clean technologies
including carbon capture and storage go some way to might mitigate the problem of rising
global temperatures but require substantial investment. Finding fairer means to distribute
costs and responsibilities is essential if the international community is to be taken seriously.
Linked to the protection of natural resources are democratic building responses to ensure
the stability of the state and the redress of social inequalities. This engages with the
literature of Held and Giddens’ who are wary of delegating power to bureaucracies but
favour better state planning, flexible regulation and taxation in a policy mix of political
choices. Fragile democracies, however, may not be able to withstand additional economic
burdens or responsibilities that are also vulnerable to corruption and suffer from political
instability. Power inequalities have favoured richer countries, often at the expense of the
poorer. International organisations may have a key influence through sustainable
development packages linked to cooperation and capacity building for climate change
mitigation and adaptation. International law paradigms including respect for the rule of law
may act to restrain unsustainable behaviour. The problem of finding some means to
mitigate global emissions and support sustainable economic growth is a question that
confronts both developing and developed worlds with difficult responsibilities to answer.