The changing shape of sovereignty in international environmental law


University of British Columbia

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Master of Laws - LLM




The two main arguments made in this paper are that the basic principles of international law need to change from emphasising the rights of individual states to emphasising the promotion of the common good and that this change is already taking place, albeit it very slowly and rather haphazardly. The aim of this paper is to attempt to give some direction to and to help speed the progress of these changes. To demonstrate the above thesis the paper looks at the developments in international environmental and natural resource law over approximately the last one hundred years. In so doing it looks at both how the law has developed generally and at the differences in the way different areas of the law have developed, so drawing out the haphazard nature of the development. The areas discussed are case law, the non-navigational use of international rivers, declarations and conventions on international environmental law generally (those dealing with resources regarded as the common heritage of mankind and those dealing with resources generally regarded as belonging to individual states.) It will be shown that certain circumstances are required to prompt states to agree to limit their sovereignty. They must either perceive limitation as the only or best way to obtain a certain benefit, or perceive that they share certain interests with others or face a common threat. The problem is that this approach leaves certain areas of the law undeveloped which means that it is still possible to argue that the fundamental principle of international law is the supremacy of individual state sovereignty. The difficulty with this is that it allows states to act without regard for the effects of their actions on others. For example, it allows them to refuse to take responsibility for the damage being done to the ozone layer because they can argue that they have the right to do as they wish within their territory. This takes us back to the first argument made above: that the law needs to change from promoting individual rights to promoting the common good.

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