Hungarian Yearbook of International Law and European Law


The 25th Anniversary of the Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros Case

The Potential and Limits of International Law in Environmental Protection

Keywords international environmental law, necessity defence, state responsibility, treaty termination, Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros judgment
Authors Christina Binder
Author's information

Christina Binder
Christina Binder: professor of international law and international human rights law, Bundeswehr University Munich.
  • Abstract

      The article deals with the Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros case as one of the first true ‘environmental cases’ considered by the ICJ. On the basis of the ICJ’s findings in the case, it examines the potential and limits of the traditional ‘tool-box’ of general international law when dealing with environmental concerns. Drawing on the ICJ’s findings in the Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros case, the article more particularly argues that the circumstances precluding wrongfulness in the law of state responsibility (the necessity defence) and termination grounds of the law of treaties (supervening impossibility and fundamental change of circumstances) are most limited instruments to respond to the growing need for environmental protection. At the same time, a dynamic interpretation of treaty obligations offers certain opportunities to incorporate subsequent developments in environmental knowledge and to respond to environmental concerns. Finally, the article contextualizes these findings in a broader mise-en-perspective in light of the last 25 years, from three sides: a case-specific perspective, an institutional/ICJ perspective and through the lens of more recent jurisprudence of the ICJ in environmental matters.

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