Forest fires are as old as human habitation on Earth. Traditionally, legal systems considered them to be isolated events and the responsibility of the national state within which they took place. Events have proven this legal construct to be inadequate. As Earth's population has grown, human settlements increasingly encroach on forest lands, and natural resource exploitation of forests has intensified. In 1997 and 1998, large-scale forest fires raged on five continents. Satellite sensors measured the fires, as well as the EI Niño induced dry climate conditions that set the stage for the fires. The fires spewed air pollution that crossed national borders, impairing public health, caused significant loss of human life, and impaired biodiversity over extensive regions of Earth. A huge volume of the green house gas carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere. Nations lost resources, and their sustainable development programs were set back. Traditional rules of international law are inadequate to address such pervasive phenomena. Preventing forest fires has become a common concern of humankind. While international cooperation is required to build the capacity of States to avert or contain and extinguish fires, it is unlikely to be forthcoming before the next EI Nino climate episode makes another rash of devastating fires likely. The only effective legal regimes to fight fires involve self-help. A well tested example exists in the mutual aid agreements of States and Provinces of the northeast sector of North America. States can enact national environmental laws, such as those in New York, to build indigenous capacity to prevent or control forest fires. By building national environmental law regimes, States can serve both sustainable development and preservation of biodiversity objectives.
Recommended CitationNicholas A. Robinson, Forest Fires as a Common International Concern: Precedents for the Progressive Development of International Environmental Law, 18 Pace Envtl. L. Rev. 459 (2001)
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