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Stuart Bell, Donald McGillivray, Ole W. Pedersen, Emma Lees, and Elen Stokes

This chapter looks at the laws that aim specifically to protect plants, animals, the natural habitats—and, increasingly, the ecosystems—of which they are a part. This is an important part of environmental law, not least because of the appalling rate of decline in, and loss of, the natural environment, but also due to the obvious public interest in conserving biodiversity. Using the law to conserve nature, however, involves finding solutions to some complex policy issues. Finding space for species and habitats to be conserved often clashes with other legitimate social interests, such as economic development and respect for private property. These tensions—which mean that nature conservation law can be a controversial policy area—are a central theme of the chapter.


Catherine Redgwell

The development of international environmental law is typically divided into three periods. The first demonstrates little genuine environmental awareness but rather views environmental benefits as incidental to largely economic concerns such as the exploitation of living natural resources. The second demonstrates a significant rise in the number of treaties directed to pollution abatement and to species and habitat conservation. Here an overt environmental focus is evident, yet the approach is still largely reactive and piecemeal. The final phase, which characterizes current international environmental law, demonstrates a precautionary approach to environmental problems of global magnitude such as biodiversity conservation and climate change. Concern transcends individual States, with certain global problems now considered the common concern of humankind. This chapter defines international environmental law, its key sources and actors, and difficulties of enforcement, before embarking on a sectoral examination of the extensive treaty law applicable in this field.


Our survival on earth, this chapter argues, depends on the conservation of the world’s natural resources. These resources comprise of soil, water, the atmosphere, plants, trees, and other life forms. The chapter looks at the earth’s current ‘ecological footprint’ and the future of that ecological footprint as it stands now. There is now widespread scientific consensus that biodiversity is being lost, and that pressures on biodiversity are increasing. The chapter asks what we can do about this, in terms of international law. The chapter identifies how international law seeks to ensure the protection and conservation and sustainable use of nature, its ecosystems and biodiversity, and the effectiveness of measures developed to conserve land?based living resources, forests, and deserts.