Document Type



Stepping Up to the Global Environmental Challenge, 8 Fordham Envtl. L.J. 103 (1996)


Environmental policy has come a long way over the last century. From its origins in the conservation movement of John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and Theodore Roosevelt, our efforts at environmental protection have flowered into a diverse and broad set of programs aimed at a variety of pollution and resource problems. But while we have developed quite elaborate structures for addressing public health and ecological harms at the local, state, and federal levels, we have done relatively little in the way of an institutional response to problems that arise at the international level. Therefore, the most important issue facing the environmental world on the brink of the twenty-fIrst century is the need to develop coherent strategies and mechanisms to combat transboundary environmental threats which range from pollution in rivers shared across borders to acid rain, ozone layer depletion, and climate change.

Globalization actually presents three distinct environmental challenges. First, we must come to grips with a set of harms that inherently span multiple countries or even the entire planet and cannot be addressed successfully with environmental programs defIned at the national level. This might be called the challenge of ecological interdependence. Second, unless managed appropriately, trade liberalization and the globalization of the world economy will create competitiveness pressures that undermine country-level environmental policies. These tensions, arising from environmental standards that vary across jurisdictions, can be seen as the environmental dimension of the challenge of economic interdependence. Third, as the result of the emergence of an international "civil society," policymakers face new public demands for environmental action arising at the level of the global community - a challenge of ecological identity.

This Essay offers a description of these environmental challenges. It recounts the failure of past and present policies to address these concerns adequately and concludes with a call for the development of a new international environmental regime in response.

Date of Authorship for this Version