Oxford Handbook on International Law in Asia and the Pacific

The focus of this chapter is on the development and implementation of the international and regional instruments (multi-lateral environmental agreements, or MEAs) and policies concerning the environment and natural resources across the sub-regions of the Asia-Pacific, in the context of the continuing debate on ecological sustainability. Many of these instruments and policies have shaped national environmental law responses in the region from the 1970s.

The two most recent are the Paris Agreement on Climate Change1 and the Sustainable Development Goals2 (SDGs) and their associated SDG Targets, both agreed in 2015.
The six subregions addressed in this chapter are Central Asia, South Asia, Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, Mekong Basin (which overlaps with Southeast Asia) and the Pacific (primarily the developing island countries). Australia and New Zealand are briefly referred to as part of the Pacific sub-region. The chapter examines the functions of the more important regional institutions together with their associated legal frameworks and soft law instruments for each of the Asia Pacific’s subregions. Given the vast scope of environmental law, a short overview of the environmental issues is given below, with only a selection of the more pressing environmental issues being addressed in any detail. These include: the effects of climate change; transboundary air pollution; biodiversity decline and deforestation; oceans and coasts.

The chapter demonstrates that there are major differences between the subregions, as well as between countries within the subregions, concerning the uptake and implementation of international and regional instruments relating to environmental protection and conservation. An underlying theme is the continuing disparity between southern and northern nations, with the majority of states in the Asia Pacific falling into the former category. This disparity has influenced the development of environmental policies and laws at both the regional and national levels. A further sub-theme is the transition from a bifurcated and fragmented regime of international and national law to a trifurcated and even more fragmented system of international, regional and national law.

One of the major contemporary challenges in the region concerns how to address the new sustainable development agenda as expressed in ‘Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their associated Targets3 agreed by the United Nations General Assembly. Several of the SDGs have direct relevance in terms of the implementation of international and regional environmental law, including Goal 12 Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns, Goal 13 on combatting climate change and its impacts, Goal 14 on oceans and marine environment, Goal 15 on the terrestrial environment, and Goal 17 on strengthening the means of implementation. Each of the subregions dealt with here has begun to grapple with how to address the SDGs. These efforts are briefly dealt with under the specific subregions.