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date: 23 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

After more than fifty years of work, the International Law Commission codified the general (customary) regime for state responsibility in the Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, which were adopted in 2001. The law of state responsibility is based on the distinction between two types of rules: ‘primary rules’ and ‘secondary rules’. State responsibility for environmental damage has played a relatively limited role in environmental law, due in part to the fact that it does not cover the liability of private actors, who are those largely responsible for pollution. This article examines the consequences of the causation of transboundary environmental harm within several international legal regimes: state responsibility for breach of general environmental obligations; international civil liability regimes for harmful consequences of high-risk activities; liability regimes in multilateral environmental agreements; and the emerging general system of liability for harmful consequences of lawful activities involving high risk. It assesses the strengths and weaknesses of these international legal regimes, their usefulness as tools of environmental protection, and their effectiveness as systems of compensation.

Keywords: International Law Commission, state responsibility, primary rules, secondary rules, environmental harm, environmental obligations, civil liability, multilateral environmental agreements, environmental protection, compensation

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