The Possibility of a International Environmental Court

Science professors and organizations are making the case for an international green court, which would fill in gaps in the existing environmental legal order.

Climate change is an existing problem. Scientists are coming up with solutions for keeping Earth habitable, including a possible international environmental court. Gerd Altmann. CCO.

Climate change is an existing problem. Scientists are coming up with solutions for keeping Earth habitable, including a possible international environmental court. Gerd Altmann. CCO.

It’s time to face scientific facts: the world is getting warmer. The five hottest years on record have all been within the last decade. Europe went through a massive heat wave this summer. Temperature changes increase the possibility of extreme heat, drought, floods, and subsequent poverty for thousands of millions of people. Climate change is a legitimate issue, seen especially by extremes in weather patterns, and scientists are pondering possible solutions beyond what is already being done.

Using previously created organizations as inspiration, one idea two scientists have suggested is a climate-based version of the International Criminal Court (ICC), according to the Huffington Post. The main problem is that the current environmental protections (which vary by country) are not enforced by any international agency, and they are failing to cope with the sheer scale of the global problem.

The 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day is less than a year away, and though the idea of getting the court up and running by then probably isn’t possible, soon afterwards would be, if initiative was taken. In 1972, the UN Environmental Programme was created, which coordinates environmental activities and assists countries with creating policies. Subsequent concerns and opinions about the environment from all corners of the world were necessary to bring attention to the problem at the time, but didn’t protect the planet on their own. Countries are now directed to measure their activities, but there isn’t any international organization in place to monitor the loopholes globally when looking at every country’s policies and activities. 

According to the Huffington Post, the International Bar Association and the Coalition for an Environmental Court have also suggested a international environmental court. The World People’s Conference recommended a similar idea, a International Climate Justice Tribunal.

One question the court would need to sort out, if organized, is which charges would be in the scope of the court. Other challenges include different priorities for developed and developing countries, discerned unenforceability of international law, and global cooperation, according to the Inter Press Service. Keeping an open mind when organizing the international green court should help solve problems before they arise. An open forum setting with understood standards should be ideal, as opposed to a criminal court setting. In a similar sense, both the state and non-state clients should be allowed to raise cases for the court. Considering the complexity of the issues likely to come up, the judge or judges assigned should be specialized and capable. Clients should, of course, be found accountable for the decisions of the court. Clear language is necessary as well. If holding states completely accountable seems too positive, then adding sufficient stakes should make it work on a international scale. 

An international green court should be able to harmonize with existing environmental regulations, provide justice to a broad range of people, create workable solutions for maintaining international standards, and build trust among the global community. Therefore, the forum should be able to start overcoming climate inaction, and enforce that progress for the international group through agreed-upon standards.

NOEMI ARELLANO-SUMMER is a journalist and writer living in Boston, MA. She is a voracious reader and has a fondness for history and art. She is currently at work on her first novel and wants to eventually take a trip across Europe.

TRIP REVIEW: Surfing South Africa to Help Out

The downfall of many volunteer organizations is cost. All too often there will be a $1000+ price tag on a trip that lasts only a week or two, not included airfare. This isn’t news, so it should come as no surprise that there are people out there who are working to fix this. One of these people is Daniel Radcliffe (no, not the actor). After collecting a Masters of Business, Daniel decided that it was time to give back to the world. He began to research volunteer trips. He too ran into this roadblock, but unlike someone like me who will simple notice the problem and then write about it, Daniel decided to do something. International Volunteer HQ was founded upon his return to New Zealand in 2007. “IVHQ was born with the goal of providing safe, affordable and high quality placements in areas where there is a real need for volunteers.” One of these places is South Africa.

It’s easy to read a statistic or to watch a documentary and think that we understand. Sure, we have problems here in the United States, there’s inequality and poverty everywhere, but, honestly, we cannot imagine what some citizens of the world live through. In South Africa the average life expectancy of a white South African is 71 years. The average life expectancy for the black population is 48 years. In 2005 it was estimated that 31% of the female population was infected with HIV, most of them black. There are 1,200,000 orphans. These are numbers and statistics, I could throw them onto a graph and you would see the vast differences, but you still wouldn’t know, you would still be using your imagination. Over there, it’s a reality. South Africa needs help and, if you feel so inclined, you can give it.

IVHQ sends volunteers to South Africa on the first and third Monday of each month. They normally arrive in groups of twenty to fifty people and the assist the community in an astounding variety of ways. Participants can involve themselves in a teaching project, in childcare, computer training, sports development and, an organization after my own heart, a surf outreach program.

Maybe you’re wondering what good a surf outreach program would do for children when they could be receiving extra medical attention or extra food and shelter. In the words of Ellen Varoy, Marketing and Media Coordinator for IVHQ, “The Surf Outreach program is designed to provide these children with an after school activity, keeping them off the streets of Cape Town and placing them in a safe and encouraging environment. Through the program, these children have the opportunity to learn new skills, take up new challenges, gain confidence and interact with our international volunteers, who the children look up to as role models.” It’s not about whether or not these kids learn to surf. It’s about showing them that there are people who care. It’s about being a ray of light on an otherwise bleak horizon. As a surfer would say, it’s about sharing the stoke. Would these children benefit more from help that focused on their health and nourishment? On the spreadsheet, probably, but where would they go after that? I say give them role models, give them hope and teach them that they can overcome. That, in my opinion, will last much longer than a loaf of bread.

The cost of IVHQ trips is one of the things that makes this organization so great. Prospective volunteers for the surf outreach program only have to pay $320 for one week. Longer periods of time require more money, being capped off at six months for $4580. This does not included airfare or visas or spending money. Also, if you want to participate in the surf outreach program you must know how to swim. I just thought I would point that out. If you are interested in any of the other programs offered for South Africa, you can find more information here

IVHQ is a fantastic option for people who want to volunteer for an affordable price. A full range of trips can be found at their website, As usual, if you were interested in the trip, but don’t think it’s for you, check back with next week for the next article in our series of trip reviews.

For testimonials by volunteers who completed the surf outreach program, check out: Testimonials  

To check out a video from the trip click here.


KINO CROOKE spent the last three years juggling school and travel. He most recently spent the last two months traveling across Spain before moving to New York to work with CATALYST.