Protection of environment: Need for sacrifice of sovereignty

By Vivek Pattanayak*

The biggest challenge to the human civilization is the climate change due to global warming, wanton destruction of environment and degradation of ecological balance. Recognition of this danger has begun since the Stockholm Conference of 1977 although its gravity is increasingly felt year after year with expansion of knowledge relating to greenhouse emission, ozone layer depletion, melting of glaciers, desertification on one side and submergence of coastal areas on the other, and the unusual forest fire in North America and Europe, increasing frequency of cyclones, tornados and typhoon, heat waves and also freezing cold blizzard. Rio Summit, Kyoto Protocols, and the Paris Convention have been landmarks in the growing realization of impending danger to human existence.

Notwithstanding any number of multilateral treaties and innumerable resolutions, and plethora of funding mechanism, progress towards the goal to keep the global temperature to the targeted limit above the pre-industrial level is disappointing. Recent indication reflects that this target is not achievable with the present level of burning of fossil fuel to meet energy demand. Prevent or perish is the stark warning.

Revenge of Gaia published a decade ago was a revealing piece of scientific literature. The author, Professor Lovelock the proponent of the Gaia Theory deserves credit for exposing to the civilized world how the mother earth is slowly dying.

Unless there is robust international understanding among the sovereign States whether small or big, whether powerful or weak, and whether rich or poor, the hope of reaching the goal will diminish.

International law is law of sovereign nations based on consent. This law has grown over centuries by increasing international understandings culminating by way of establishment of the Charter of United Nation. In spite of all the weakness of UN and its specialized agencies, the system has contributed immensely towards growth of international law. Role of the specialized agencies in such development of codified body of rules is immense.

Towards this achievement sovereign States have consented through the concepts of “auto limitation” and “self-denying ordinances”. Each state agrees to sacrifice its supreme power known as sovereignty in political science to certain extent so that the world order is regulated in a coherent and rational basis.

In spite of the monistic concept of sovereignty still prevailing, even within the state, the concept that authority is federal, as enunciated by Harold J Laski has taken roots. Beyond the boundaries of nations, the states have volunteered to give up their supreme power by exercise of their sovereignty. The Rome Convention creating international court has given jurisdiction to the Hague-based criminal court to apprehend individuals. Milosevic, former President of Yugoslavia came under trial of this court. Warrants were issued against President Gaddafi of Libya, and President Bashir of Sudan. The doctrine of sovereignty propounded by Jean Bodin when nations emerged has yielded place to modern realities of human rights, transparency, and growing internationalism. This sacrifice of sovereignty has led to semblance of order on the earth eclipsing “jungle law” of the earlier times. To quote Rousseau, “Yield to force is an act of necessity but yield to will is an act of wisdom.”

In the field of international civil aviation since last two decades the states have voluntarily agreed to introduce universal safety audit programme under the authority of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized agency of United Nations. Audit is done by internationally selected group of technical experts constituted by ICAO. Their reports are binding on sovereign member states. Consequences of failure to comply can be pernicious to their status on international air transport. This model should be a revelation to the world.

To address the climate change issue, nations must develop common consensus based on give and take. Each state must agree to have an international legal instrument which could be enforceable through an international mechanism. The ideal forum in this context is the United Nations because it exists as an international institution based on international legal regime with a professional secretariat and legal structure of institutions and well-established specialized agencies. It is much more universal than many more institutions which have evolved over the years like G-7, G- 20, SCO, BRICS, OAS, OAU, Arab League, and EU etc.

In spite of the fact that UN has become ineffective on matters relating to security because of veto power enjoyed by five permanent members it has made laudable achievements in many other domains in particular in non-political matters. In this piece intention is not to adumbrate and make a list of achievements of UN. There is increasing realization in the world that the UN Charter established almost seven decades ago has become outdated and veto power is anachronistic.

Climate change which has far reaching consequences on humanity as a whole is too big a matter and too important a challenge to be left in the hands of political state. International civil society has to become active to prevail upon political leaders to agree upon a common consensus to usher in an enforceable legal instrument to protect the environment.



*The author is a former bureaucrat and held important positions in aviation and power regulatory body. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]




DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.

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