Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



This discussion suggests that unilateral state action to prevent international environmental injury is likely to play an important and continuing role in efforts to deal with international environmental problems. It also suggests the futility of attempting to characterize unilateral action as inherently either desirable or undesirable. While multilateral actions seem generally preferable to unilateral action, effective multilateral arrangement in many cases may not be practically attainable. Unilateral action may be the only feasible alternative to inaction. Under these circumstances, a respectable argument can be made for the propriety of unilateral action on at least an interim basis pending achievement of effective multilateral arrangements. The desirability and effectiveness of unilateral action as a device for dealing with international environmental problems will typically depend on a number of factors, including the nature of the problem in question, the type of measures taken, the way they are applied, the benefits and costs to both the action state and the international community, and the alternatives available.

This analysis also suggests that there are many possible ways of dealing with international environmental problems, each of which may be appropriate in particular circumstances. These possible approaches cover a wide spectrum. At one extreme is recognition of broad state discretion. At the other is the provision of a strong exclusive international regulatory authority. In between lies a wide range of possible arrangements providing a more limited state responsibility and authority subject to various types of international oversight, standards, and procedures. Each of these approaches has its own advantages, risks, and costs. A comprehensive and effective system of international environmental control will require an imaginative and realistic mix of elements of all of them.