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Timeline of the main international legal instruments on the environment, 1960-2018 

Source: author’s compilation.

Comment

Only four international legal documents preceded the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm), which was when international management of the environment was institutionalized. Since that time, as the diagram indicates, 26 new texts have seen the light of day. The states that are signatories enter a commitment, and civil societies bring cases before the courts in order to incite governments to action. The United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement (COP21, December 2015) revealed the dual function of these legal documents: on the one hand they make global governance on the environment visible to the wider public but, at the same time, they have limits, and other key actors can play a role (there were thousands of signatories to the initiative “We Are Still In,” which aims to pursue climate action in the United States despite the federal government’s withdrawal, and over two million signatories to the petition “L’Affaire du Siècle,” in late 2018, aiming to prosecute the French state for its lack of climate action).

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