The global environment has, slowly but surely, slid into crisis.  Whether the more extreme warnings about global climate change are accurate, or overstated, man’s capacity, particularly in the industrialised world, to make significant and permanent changes to the global environment cannot be disputed.  Coupled with the inexorable crush of population growth, the planet’s ability to provide resources to sustain demand, and to deal with the waste of human consumption, has declined in as little as a lifetime; yet this slide has not really been sudden in human terms, or unexpected.

International law has struggled to come to grips with the needs of the global environment, focusing initially on pollution and latterly the rights of States to develop their economies in accordance with their own environmental policies without undue interference from other States.  International environmental law, particularly in the International Court of Justice, has also tended to focus on disputes inter partes under treaties and other hard law documents in relation to environmental damage, rather than any overarching universal interest in the protection of the natural environment for the benefit of all living things.

This paper argues that international environmental law needs to take cognisance of the reality of the environmental impact of human activity and to recognise the erga omnes obligations of current generations as trustees of the environment for future generations, and examines the roles global traditions and world religions can play in providing context for such trusteeship.