Photo credit: Trail Historical Society
Clean air is a common-good resource, freely available to all. As air pollution knows no bounds, Canada, in a sense, created the concept of Trans-Boundary Air Pollution. Air pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, methane Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) are harmful compounds released into the atmosphere, primarily through industrial manufacturing of goods. Transboundary air pollution occurs when the concentration is released into the atmosphere and crosses borders, impacting neighboring countries.
A dispute involving the Teck Cominco Smelter in Trail, British Columbia (B.C.) made international environmental law history when the case was decided in 1941. After the company significantly increased the size of its smoke stacks, the resulting unintended consequence created toxic air from the metal refinery, which negatively impacted farmers in neighboring Washington State. The outcome is regarded as international environmental laws most foundational decisions, as it helped to form the polluter-pays principle, making a state responsible for the damaging effects it has on another territory. The case’s arbitration also helped solidify the “Good neighborliness” custom to enhance diplomacy.
In 1987, Canada hosted a United Nations conference in Montreal, Quebec to tackle the alarming effects of Ozone depletion. The delegates of the convention adopted an international agreement known as the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer. This accord, now shared between 142 countries, saw the international regulation limiting the production, trade and use of 8 Ozone depleting substances (ODS), such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), halons, and carbon tetrachloride. This agreement has since expanded to cover 96 substances. More importantly, the Montreal Protocol not only united the politicians from nations around the world, but also gained overwhelming public and media support, as well as industry buy-in.
The Montreal protocol is considered a huge success, as 96 harmful ODS have virtually been eliminated. These substances were also contributing to climate change. The ozone layer is now slowly recovering, largely thanks to the work by those behind the Montreal Protocol.
Guruswamy, L.D., (2012). International Environmental Law: In a nutshell, (4th ed.). Saint Paul, MN: West.
United Nations. (2006). Trail smelter case (United States, Canada). Reports of International Arbitral Awards, 3. pp. 1905-1982. 16 April 1938 and 11 March 1941. Washington, DC. Retrieved from: http://bit.ly/2uiTM37
United Nations Development Program. (2017). Montreal Protocol. Sustainable Development Program, Environmental and Natural Capital. New York, NY. Retrieved from: http://bit.ly/2xhbcgK