Environmental Management

6. International responses

The following chapter looks at the different legislative -binding and non-binding- policy responses to environmental risks and impacts at the international level.

Economic globalisation has inevitably led to international responses in the form of agreements, conventions and initiatives, within the context of which national policy-makers increasingly need to operate. 

This chapter provides an overview of the key international agreements concerned with the extractives sector:

  • International convention for the prevention of pollution from ships
  • Geneva convention of the continental shelf (1958)
  • African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources
  • Indigenous and tribal peoples’ convention
  • Convention on environmental impact assessment in a transboundary context (ESPOO Convention)
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 
  • International initiatives, as a type of international agreement 

International convention for the prevention of pollution from ships

The Convention was adopted in 1973 and was modified and amended in 1978. It includes regulations aimed at preventing and minimizing pollution from ships, both accidental and from routine operations. It includes six technical Annexes; each Annex provides for specific actions to prevent diverse sources of pollution in the sea.

The adoption of the Convention was prompted by the accident of the oil tanker ‘Torrey Canyon’ in 1967. The tanker sank in the English Channel with over 120,000 tons of crude oil, which were spilled into the sea, causing environmental disaster with the loss of a huge amount of wildlife and degraded coastlines. 

The Convention was later amended after the imfamous greater oil spillage - the accident of the Exxon Valdez resulting in 1,264,155 barrels of crude oil being released in the territorial waters of the United States.

Geneva convention of the continental shelf (1958)

The Convention was adopted in 1958. It recognises the right of States to construct and maintain the operation of continental shelf installations and devices necessary for the development of oil and gas operations. The coastal State may not impede the laying or maintenance of cables or pipelines. The Convention was the first instrument which regulated the removal of installations that were abandoned or un-used. The provisions of the Geneva Convention have important implications in the development of Environmental Management. 

African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

This regional Convention adopted in 1969 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, aims at the protection and conservation of the environment and natural resources. To this end, its preface recognises the need for joint action for the sustainable utilisation and conservation of environmental assets.

The Convention applies to ‘activities’ carried out under jurisdiction or control of the Parties to the Convention within and beyond the limits of its national jurisdiction. The Convention holds that the Parties shall ensure that non-agricultural activities such as mining and waste disposal do not result in erosion, pollution and degradation of land and soil. It provides a comprehensive set of environmental norms that cover land, water, vegetation, biodiversity and the rights of local communities.

Indigenous and tribal peoples’ convention

The Convention was promoted by the International Labour Organisation and adopted in Geneva in 1989. It applies to ‘tribal peoples in independent countries whose social, cultural and economic conditions distinguish from other sections of the national community’. Article 7(3) of the Convention states:

Governments shall ensure that, whenever appropriate, studies are carried out, in co-operation with the peoples concerned, to assess the social, spiritual, cultural and environmental impact on them of planned development activities. The results of these studies shall be considered as fundamental criteria for the implementation of these activities. 

The Convention also seeks to ensure that indigenous peoples participate in the development activities and receive fair compensation for any damages.

Convention on environmental impact assessment in a transboundary context (ESPOO Convention)

Extractives sector activities have high social and environmental impacts, yet these impacts do not always occur within national borders, they often have cross-border effects. The relevance of international law in tackling and preventing transboundary environmental damage is increasing, as governments’ willingness to consult and cooperate also grows.

One of the main goals of the Espoo Convention, in force since 1997, is to prevent environmental damage before it occurs, by bringing together governments and other stakeholders. Under the Convention parties should assess the potential environmental impact of certain activities at an early stage of planning. States should also notify and consult each other on all major projects under consideration that are likely to have a significant adverse environmental impact across boundaries.

In 2003, States adopted the Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment, which complements the Espoo Convention by ensuring that each party integrates environmental assessment into their programmes and projects at an early stage. It is anticipated that this approach assists in laying out groundwork for sustainable development.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) 

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) is an international global convention with the objective of "stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system."

The administrative body of this convention is the Conference of the Parties (COP), whose first session was held in 1995, triggering a tradition of annual gatherings to discuss science, progress and COP actions. 

In 1995, UNFCC adopted a framework for international cooperation to combat climate change by limiting average global temperature increases, setting the ceiling at 2° degrees Celsius. It established a strict division between developed and developing countries in the sharing of obligations. Afterwards, countries continued negotiations seeking to strengthen the global response to climate change, the result of which was the Kyoto Protocol adopted in 1997. Under the Protocol, developed countries pledge to reduce emissions under certain targets until the end of 2020.

The Kyoto agreement expired in 2015, when the twenty first COP (COP 21) meeting was held in Paris, France to renew and update the agreement. Below are the key four measures which were agreed in December, 2015: 

  • To peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and achieve a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century (sinks such as forests);
  • To keep global temperature increase "well below" 2 °C (3.6F) and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C;
  • To review improvements every 5 years; and
  • An estimate (BBC) of $100 billion* a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future.

Additional detail is included in the topic overview Climate Change & Extractives.

International initiatives

International initiatives in the extractives sector cover a number of activities within the production chain. In contrast to international agreements, international initiatives aim to provide expertise and guidance in the design of domestic policy and national regulatory frameworks for the sector, by identifying policy guidelines, toolkits and good practices that could assist governments of resource-rich countries in shaping environmentally considerate domestic legislation. The 'Guides' section of this topic includes some of the most useful toolkits in this area. 

Some of the more significant international initiatives relevant to the extractives sector include the Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR), a public-private partnership of national and international oil producers, national governments and international institutions aiming to reduce CO2 emissions, while facilitating increased use of flaring gas; and the Petroleum Governance Initiative (PGI), an initiative aiming to improve cooperation on petroleum sector governance, which encompasses support for environmental sustainability.