At the end of the 20th century and at the beginning of the 21st century, the international community has been appalled by a series of environmental disasters (e.g.: Seveso, 1976; Amoco Cadiz, 1978; Bhopal, 1984; Chernobyl, 1986; Sandoz, 1988; Exxon Valdez, 1989; Haven, 1991; the burning oil wells in the Gulf, 1991; Sea Empress, 1996; Erika, 1999; Prestige, 2002).

The effects of these disasters and the interests involved reached beyond individual nations. It was then if not earlier that the idea of establishing some form of effective environmental protection began to take shape as a matter of international concern.

The project to create at the United Nations level, an international environmental court as a permanent body and an international environmental agency with powers of monitoring the state of the environment, collecting data, establishing standards and promoting research, is already more than 30 years old.

The idea of an International Environmental Agency and of an International Court of the Environment originated from the widespread conviction that in order to ensure the full and free exercise of the “right-duty” to the environment inherent in all human beings, either existing international institutions must be strengthened or new institutions created.

As early as February 1988, a committee was founded in Rome to examine the subject, as a private initiative of Justice Amedeo Postiglione of the Italian Supreme Court of Cassation (where, since 1978, Justice Postiglione was coordinating an environmental working group “Ecologia e Territorio” promoting the creation of legal environmental data bases). At the time it was not certain whether the environmental court would be based simply on moral sanctions, whether it would be set up as a permanent institution or whether it should be a combination of the two.

The committee organized an international conference in Rome from 21 to 24 April 1989, attended by experts from 30 countries. The conference ended with the call for the creation of the fundamental right to a healthy environment, an international environmental agency and an environmental court at the UN level. By then it had been agreed that the court should be a permanent institution along the lines of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to which both individuals and organizations would have access and which would ensure both that the new right to a healthy environment was upheld and that international agreements on environment and international law in general in this regard were observed.

The idea of setting up an international environmental court subsequently received support from the EC Environmental Commissioner, Ripa di Meana, from various Italian ministers and members of the European Parliament (among whom a special thought goes to the late Alexander Langer).

A second conference in Florence in May 1991 resulted in a much more thorough debate on the whole question of an environmental court. It was then that the basic outlines of the court’s rules of procedure were determined keeping in mind the statutes of the International Court of Justice and of the European Court of Human Rights.

Since then, the idea of an international court of the environment was the subject of several more international conferences.

In the European Parliament two motions for resolutions were tabled in 1991 and 1992, calling for a Community initiative on the subject (B3-0718/91 and B3-0262/92). The resolution of 13 February 1992 stated that the EC should attend the UNCED conference in Rio de Janeiro (Earth Summit, June

1992) and called for the setting up of an international environmental court with worldwide jurisdiction, either at the ICJ in The Hague or at the UN in New York (paragraph 14 of the resolution).

At the Rio Summit no decision was taken on the idea of an independent environmental court but the Rio Declaration stressed the need for effective environmental legislation including liability law and called for more public involvement and institution of court proceedings in this area (principle 10).

After Rio de Janeiro, the committee created by Justice Amedeo Postiglione became the International Court of the Environment Foundation, officially registered in Rome as a non-profit organization on 22 May 1992. The latest amendments of the Statute date on 4 July 2003.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the idea of an international jurisdiction for the environment has been supported by many actors including government, parliaments and civil society. Under the pressure of the climate crisis, the time seems now ripe for concrete actions and developments.