Ed Barton, LLM, CPA, CFA

Natural Resources Management – Dispute Resolution

Disputes resolution in international law falls to two primary approaches – diplomatic and legal means.

Diplomatic Means of Resolution


Most environmental treaties refer to negotiation and other diplomatic means as a first step in resolving disputes before the parties move to more formal methods. These treaties include:

  • 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects
  • 1979 Convention on Long-range Trans-boundary Air Pollution (LRTAP)
  • 1985 Vienna Convention for Protection of the Ozone Layer
  • 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
  • 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity

Some treaties require consultation between parties where any development plans for natural resources are likely to impact the natural resources of another state. These treaties include:

  • 1968 African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources
  • 1969 Civil Liability Convention
  • 1972 London Convention
  • 1974 Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Land Based Sources
  • 1974 Nordic Convention on the Protection of the Environment
  • 1979 LRTAP where there is significant risk of air pollution
Mediation and Conciliation

If consultation or negotiation fails, parties may move to mediation or conciliation. These are provided for explicitly in the 1982 UNCLOS, the 1992 Climate Change Convention and the 1997 UN Watercourse Convention in the event that negotiations break down.

Fact Finding Inquiry

A fact finding inquiry is conducted by an impartial third party to establish the factual basis for a settlement between parties. This approach facilitates the further negotiation for a settlement between parties.

Legal Means for Settling Disputes


Based on legal approach, arbitration is a hearing before a judge or tribunal with the result being a binding award. Treaties containing arbitration provisions include:

  • MARPOL (unilateral)
  • CITES (mutual consent)
  • 1992 Helsinki Watercourse Convention
  • 1992 Climate Change Convention
International Courts

There are several courts with jurisdiction over international natural resources law:

  • International Court of Justice (ICJ) – United Nations
  • International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) – UNCLOS Cases
  • World Trade Organization (WTO)
  • Human Rights Courts
  • European Court of Justice (ECJ)

Non-Compliance Procedures

The non-compliance remedies are limited by international law. They include:

  • Providing compliance assistance
  • Issuing citations
  • suspension of rights and privileges under the protocol
  • financial penalties
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