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Environmentalism and International Law - Considering "Asphalt and the jungle"

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Teong Yi Heong (Jet) U021202J Environmentalism and International Law Considering "Asphalt and the jungle" The Brazilian government, under military rule, initiated an ambitious plan to improve on the country's infrastructure and to jumpstart the economy in the 1970s. The "National Integration Plan" (Plano de Integra´┐Żao Nacional) entailed building roads and highways through the Amazon River, and resettling population into cleared land on either side of the roads. The plan had "both the assistance of the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the United States Agency for International Development and other international lending agencies, and the active participation of transnational corporations and national entrepreneurs". (Pallemaerts 1986: 374) Thirty years on, an article "Asphalt and the jungle" in July 24, 2004 issue of the Economist reports on the Brazilian government's proposal to pave a highway, BR-163, cutting across the Amazon from Cuiaba to Santarem. The road project is Brazil's bid to improve on their infrastructure and to bolster economic progress, and to finish where the National Integration Plan has left off. However, if the Economist article is any gauge, the Brazilian proposal has been met with international scrutiny and some protests. The change in attitude is largely due to the growing global concern about the state of the environment. In response, a body of international law is developed and codified for the protection of the environment. ...read more.


The limits of international intervention However, it is important to note that international intervention on any basis is limited. Despite the cause for international concern, any action against the state planning developmental projects that are detrimental to the ecology is curtailed by international law itself. The primacy of 'sovereignty of the state' has hitherto directed international politics and law and the definition of 'sovereignty' most commonly taken is "the state's exclusive authority within specified territorial boundaries" (Litfin 1997). International law in this aspect then is rather double sided: on one hand pressing for states to conform to the environmental regime, and on the other upholding 'sovereignty' as sacrosanct. The complication with sovereignty arises because environmental concerns are becoming increasingly global, whereas economic development remains the preoccupation of the state. Given a realist perspective, states are more concerned with their immediate interests. The assumption often made then, is that states as sovereign actors are reluctant to engage in international cooperation over the environment, as it may come at their expense. Sovereignty thus becomes a constraint on the international environmental regime, since international law cannot infringe on the state's impetus in pushing for development at the expense of environmental concerns. In the case of Brazil, the territorial exclusivity on which its sovereignty is based does not allow for international intervention on the road project, even though the Amazon forest is seen as an important ecological resource to the world. ...read more.


The extent of this international pressure waxes and wanes with the political climate, and often, the support of the hegemonic power, the U.S., (which, currently, is also the world's richest economy) is decisive. The environmental regime cannot be upheld without the U.S. as a chief signatory, which would go towards explaining why it had been crucial that the U.S. sign the Kyoto Protocol (it was the greatest producer of greenhouse gases as well), and why the international community reacted so strongly to the U.S.'s refusal. It is then possible to argue that in international environmental law is more about influence than it is about enforceability. International actors cannot force Brazil to protect the Amazon forest, they can merely persuade, and by the looks of the Brazilian case, it has succeeded to a certain extent. It is likely that this state of affairs will remain unchanged for the foreseeable future. As the byline of the Economist article read, "[The] road project in the Amazon may be the world's boldest attempt to reconcile growth and conservation", and the world awaits with abated breath. 1 The objectivity of the World Bank Report is questionable, given that it tends to be driven by the capitalist, industrialized Western powers, most prominent of which is the United States. Nevertheless the arguments it puts forth are persuasive, if at times pedagogical. ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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