The 50th anniversary of the iconic journal ‘Environmental Policy & Law’ (EPL) took shape in 2020 amid the global disruption and trauma caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. After consultation, Marten Stavenga, a colleague at IOS Press, accepted my idea for a Special Issue of EPL to mark this milestone, and invited me to be the Guest Editor on 8 August 2020. Thus, I embarked on the task of an EPL Special Issue with the theme: Our Earth Matters: Pathways to a Better Common Environmental Future. This was followed first by IOS Press placing their trust in me as Managing Editor and then as Editor-in-Chief of EPL. Editorship of a journal, like any scholarly work, builds on the shoulders of previous contributors, so it is with due humility that I don this new mantle.
The quick follow up by IOS Press with this book as a sequel to the EPL appointments has proved to be an unexpected boon. Hence, as a corollary to my two decades of scholarly works on global environmental governance, the new role has set me on the wider path of finding scholarly and policy-relevant answers to the global environmental crisis arising from the human developmental predicament that imperils our only abode of planet earth.
Our Earth Matters
With regard to this offering of Our Earth Matters, it is pertinent to recall my early publication, as a doctoral scholar, on “Destroying the Global Environment” (International Perspectives, Ottawa, Nov./Dec. 1986, pp.27–29). This sought to underscore that the “human quest for development seriously threatens our fragile ecosystem”. As a consequence, global environmental regulatory process has come a long way since the warning bells rung by such works as Rachel Carson’s classic ‘Silent Spring’ (1962), the Club of Rome’s report on ‘The Limits to Growth’ (1972), Richard Falk’s ‘This Endangered Planet’ (1972) and Barbara Ward & Rene Dubos’s ‘Only One Earth’ (1972), which preceded the first UN Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm, 1972). In the same vein, Our Earth Matters, modestly seeks to present prognoses and prospects prior to Stockholm+50 (2022).
On 21 May 2019, it was officially recognized that we now live in the Anthropocene, our earth’s new geological epoch, named for the ‘unmistakable imprint of human activities’. That in turn calls for a new human prism for the care, maintenance and trusteeship of the planet. It makes this an appropriate occasion to reflect upon the course traversed in the past 50 years and to look ahead in an effort to seek answers for a better, common environmental future. What lies in store for us in the rest of the 21st century and beyond? How can we manage our profligate life styles, resource-heavy extraction-based production processes and wasteful patterns of consumption in such a way as to not endanger the survival of life on planet earth in general and the future of humankind in particular?
This calls for serious prognoses to make sense of the concerted, global environmental law-making and institution-building processes, comprising normative approaches at work, the global conferencing technique followed by the UN General Assembly (1972, 1992, 2002, 2012 and the forthcoming event in 2022), application and efficacy of the basic legal underpinnings of international law to environmental challenges, actual working of the giant treaty-making enterprise, and the quest for a robust global environmental-governance architecture.
We are now close to the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Stockholm Conference in June 2022. This will be yet another defining moment for a future vision to make sense of the perennial “predicament of mankind”, the need to “devise effective responses” for the “world problematique” (The Limits to Growth, 1972). In turn, it calls for an honest assessment of what we have attained in the last 50 years of regulatory processes, use of innovative tools and techniques, and the art and craft of lawmaking. Have these brought about a change in human mindsets? How can we jettison human greed and define our needs? What might be the new ideas, approaches, processes, regulatory tools and institutional structures that will address the global environmental problematique which continues to haunt us?
Exploring Future Pathways
It is against this backdrop that this book comprises invited perspectives from outstanding scholars from the five continents to probe the existing global approaches, regulatory processes, and instruments for the protection of the global environment. It enjoins us to ponder our reckless destruction of wild spaces, endangering of plant and animal species, poisoning of land, atmosphere, water resources and the oceans (now predicted to contain more plastic than fish by 2050), melting of the polar ice caps and unsettling of our essential ecological processes.
Our eminent contributors have sought to explore answers to the existential environmental crisis under four headings: Prognoses; Processes; Problematique and Prospects. Notwithstanding our best efforts, it has not been possible within the constraints of time and space to cover all major areas of global environmental concern. Some colleagues were obliged to drop out for compelling personal reasons, but fortunately it has been possible to fill these gaps at the last moment.
It is indeed heartening – nothing short of a miracle – to publish this audacious work amid the unprecedented Covid-19 global disruption of 2020–2021. I am deeply grateful to all those contributing scholars and practitioners who have made this possible; it shows that there may be ‘limits to growth’, but there are no limits to the human zest and capacity to overcome the worst. It is this that provides us with a beacon of hope for the future.
The primary objective of Our Earth Matters has been to sensitize the global audience, firing the imagination of scholars and decision-makers to re-examine the current global approaches to these problems and explore the future trajectory with new ideas, tools, techniques, processes, frameworks and international environment governance architecture. This book is a modest effort to challenge those who formulate international law and diplomacy to look ahead into the 21st century and beyond.
IOS Press colleagues deserve deep gratitude for making publication of this book possible.
I humbly dedicate this collective work to the quest for a better common environmental future.
Bharat H. Desai