International Governance and Natural Resources

United Nations

The United Nations (UN) treats environmental matters as an area that falls within the area of the ECOSOC (The Economic and Social Council). The ECOSOC oversees the specialized agencies (IGOs) related to the UN. Some of these include:

  • United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) – Established in 1972 by the UN following the Stockholm Conference. The UNEP is focused on
    • Promoting environmental cooperation
    • Providing policy guidance for the UN System
    • Review reports on UN program implementation
    • Promote the use of science
  •  United Nations Commission on Human Rights (Human Rights Council)
    • Views clean air and water as a fundamental human right

Other Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs)

Many other IGOs play a role in environmental protection.

  • The European Union – The EU has an extensive body of environmental rules on environmental law.
  • The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – provides governments with effective and efficient approaches to environmental regulation. The Environment Policy Committee (EPOC) focuses on Green Growth Strategies for sustainable development.
  • The Council of Europe – established in 1961 – focus on preserving the conservation of nature and landscapes.
  • The African Union – Established in 1963 – promoted the adoption of:
    • 1968 African Nature Convention
    • 1991 Bamako Convention on Hazardous Waste
  • African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – 2001 case decided which links human rights and the environment under the 1981 African Charter.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

NGOs play an essential role in developing environmental regulation by providing critical expertise, enhancing accountability, monitoring state activities, and strengthening international agreements. NGO’s played an essential role in the Rio Conference of 1992. About 650 NGOs participated in the Rio conference, and the NGOs are crucial in implementing Agenda 21 and enforcing sustainable development.

Individuals & Communities

Individuals are critical in the enforcement of natural resources law. There is an evolving belief that there is a human right to a clean environment. International law is also beginning to recognize the rights of indigenous communities threatened by pollution and the adverse environmental impacts of development. The Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of 1989 affirms the right of ownership and possession of indigenous peoples to include natural resource extraction. Private parties, including commercial and industrial enterprises, also have obligations under natural resources law.

The Arhaus Convention implements access to information, public participation, and environmental justice. The 1972 Stockholm Declaration noted that man’s natural environment is essential to his basic well-being and human rights.

Conflict Zones and Criminal Activity

Many conflicts arise from the control of mineral and agricultural resources. The UN Security Council has passed numerous resolutions and imposed sanctions on countries that fail to comply with other countries’ sanctions for exploiting natural resources.

The OECD ad Council of Europe has passed numerous treaties and laws to fight corruption in using natural resources. It focuses on bribery and corruption in the use and award of sanctions and mineral rights. The 2003 United Nations Convention Against Corruption regulates both public and private acts of corruption by presenting specific guidelines and approaches to transparency and accountability in natural resource allocation and exploitation. The EU also established guidelines prohibiting the trade of resources used to fund armed conflicts.


It is generally accepted that environmental protection is better achieved with market-incentive mechanisms than through command and control regulation. Command and control remain the primary method of economic regulation in this area.

Some trading schemes, such as carbon emissions trading under the Kyoto Protocols, have also been extended to water rights and other areas. They could be applied on a regional or national basis. Additionally, the internalization of externalities through taxation is commonly applied, and the proceeds are generally directed to mitigation.

Other practical behavioral modification approaches include labeling, mandatory recycling schemes, and pricing ecosystem services.