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A Call for Strengthening Cooperation

Laurence Boisson de Chazournes
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Cooperation is a cornerstone principle of international environmental law and its content needs to be refined to reinforce the protection of the environment for present and future generations. More precise cooperation obligations in international environmental law would ensure better environmental protection, particularly regarding the management of shared resources.

In the area of environmental protection, cooperation plays many roles for preventing damage to the environment and ensuring that the obligation to conduct an environment impact assessment (EIA) and those of exchange of information, of scientific research, of consultation and negotiation, or of notification and assistance in case of an emergency, are soundly implemented (see L. Boisson de Chazournes and Jason Rudall, “Cooperation in a Transboundary and Global Context”, in Y.Aguila, J.E.Vinuales, eds., A Global Pact for the Environment: Legal Foundations, CUP, 2019, pp. 149-156). Without cooperation, there is neither proper protection of global public goods, nor effective management of shared resources. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has reminded us that:

  • ‘(i)t is by co-operating, that the States concerned can jointly manage the rules of damage to the environment that might be created by the plans initiated by one or other of them, so as to prevent the damage in question.’ (Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay (Argentina v. Uruguay), Judgment, ICJ Reports 2010, at para 77).

For its part, the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) noted that:

  • ‘(t)he duty to cooperate is a fundamental principle in the prevention of pollution of the marine environment under Part XII of the (UNCLOS), and general international law.’ (MOX Plant Case (Ireland v. United Kingdom), ITLOS Request for Provisional Measures, 1999, at para 82). 

Both the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment of 1972 (Stockholm Declaration), in its Principle 4, and the Declaration on Environment and Development of 1992 (Rio Declaration), in its Principle 27, have stressed this duty.

The numerous multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) feature various examples of cooperation. This is the case, for example, of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement, as well as of the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

The Paris Agreement is replete with calls for cooperation. Under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, provision is made for voluntary cooperation among Parties so that more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) may be made. Article 7 of the Paris Agreement is concerned with adaptation and it foresees a role for cooperation in strengthening national adaptation efforts. The Paris Agreement also envisages cooperation in technology development and transfer under Article 10. Article 12 provides for cooperative efforts around climate change education, awareness, public participation, and public access to information. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes the Sustainable Development Goals, recognises that cooperation to climate change action is crucial: ‘(t)he global nature of climate change calls for the widest possible international cooperation aimed at accelerating the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions and addressing adaptation to the adverse impacts of climate change’ (Transforming our world: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, A/RES/70/1, 21 October 2015, at para 31). 

Cooperation can take many forms, at various levels, and with diverse actions through, for example, public-private partnership programmes. International institutions can play a significant role in facilitating cooperation, as is evident in the area of transboundary water resources. Indeed, cooperation through institutional structures and mechanisms helps to ensure that international water resources are managed effectively (Laurence Boisson de Chazournes, Freshwater in International Law, 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, 2021). 

Cooperation within international institutions can take various forms in these institutions, from the interaction between different stakeholders to the facilitation of joint activities between States. Moreover, institutions serve as important mechanisms for dialogue and consultation, which helps to prevent tension that could lead to disputes. When disputes do arise, these institutions can help to resolve them.

While the obligation to cooperate and its many facets can be found in a variety of international instruments, the status and the legal contours of the obligation are not precisely defined. This has an impact on the implementation of cooperation, particularly in terms of what is required of States in discharging their obligation to cooperate. More precise cooperation obligations in international environmental law would ensure better environmental protection, particularly regarding the management of shared resources. There is also a need to better articulate how the duty of cooperation is shaped by the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. Cooperation is a cornerstone principle of international environmental law. Its importance needs to be confirmed and its content refined to “reinforce the protection of the environment for present and future generations” and contribute to  “effectively implement” multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs)” (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 73/333, Annex, 30 August 2019).