States and international organizations are the primary sources of international law. However, international environmental law is the impact of efforts from non-government organizations and state authorities. There have been positive efforts made on law and policy making in the field of international environmental law in nations such as the United States, Germany, Japan, Russia, South Africa, Brazil, China, India, and Indonesia. In most cases, environmental protection has been witnessed in those nations in which there is a guaranteed constitutional right to a pollution-free healthy environment. For instance, the law in Costa Rica, Latin America, the Constitution of Chile, Hungary, South Africa, etc., provides for a ‘right to a pollution-free environment.’ Several European member-states have amended their constitutions after the fall of communism and have included the right to environmental protection as a justifiable right in the constitution.
In federal states, local governments legislate on environmental issues within their jurisdiction. The law and policies initiated by different nations and their local regions have influenced each other towards evolving a state practice of transnational environmental regulations. In this respect, the state and national level administrative and bureaucratic agencies have played a vital role in creating ecological activism.
Additionally, on a global level, the organizations of the United Nations have served as key actors in the process of environment protection law-making. For instance, the role played by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. It cannot be overlooked since they have helped initiate action among the states and pre-existing international organizations, including the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD).
Nevertheless, at every level, local, national, international, there have been several disagreements concerning environmental issues. In particular, at the global level, although there is a comprehensive institutional framework, there is a complete absence of unanimity concerning environmental decisions. It is, therefore, a challenge to create an order of international environmental governance with sustainable development as a priority concern.
It was not until the late 1980s that sustainable development started to be included frequently in international texts, primarily in political documents and then in binding treaty texts. One of the first treaties to use the term, and notably outside the environmental context, was the 1990 Agreement establishing the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Despite the continued political disagreement, the concept of sustainable development has now been included within a significant number of binding and non-binding texts both at the regional and global levels. However, in 2012 the international community noticed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development that the progress was most unsatisfactory.
Humanity stands at a defining moment in history, and we need to realize that integration of environment, development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfillment of basic needs and improved living standards for all; a surety for an eco-friendly prosperous future. No nation can achieve this dependently, but together we can in a global partnership for sustainable development.
Hence development and conservation of the environment should go hand in hand. Governments of all nations (under-developed, developing, and developed) should adopt a development policy that assures pollution control. In this sense, international environmental law faces its most significant challenges to meet the developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations.