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Fumée industrielle

Polluter pays principle

The polluter pays principle was formulated for the first time as an economic principle: in a 1972 OECD recommendation, it aims for the polluter to bear the "costs of prevention and control measures". pollution stopped by public authorities so that the environment is in an acceptable state. It is included in principle 16 of the Rio Declaration, according to which "national authorities should endeavor to promote the internalization of the costs of environmental protection and the use of economic instruments, in accordance with the principle according to which it is the polluter who must, in principle, assume the cost of pollution, in the interest of the public interest and without distorting international trade and investment.

If the polluter pays principle appears today in several binding instruments, each time they are international conventions of a sectoral nature. This is the case, for example, of the Athens Protocol of 1980 relating to the protection of the Mediterranean Sea against pollution from sources and activities located on land, of the London Convention of 1990 on preparedness, response and cooperation in regarding oil pollution, the Alpine Convention of 1991, or the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic of 1992 (OSPAR Convention), the Convention on Environmental Protection Marine Area of the Baltic Sea of 1992, of the Convention for the Protection of the Black Sea against Pollution of 1992 (see Documentation ). The Helsinki Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents of 1992, the London Protocol of 1996 on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and the Kyiv Protocol of 2003 on Civil Liability and Compensation in cases of damage caused by the transboundary effects of industrial accidents on transboundary waters even expressly describe it as a “general principle of international environmental law”. The text entitled “draft articles on the prevention of transboundary damage resulting from dangerous activities”, adopted in 2001 by the International Law Commission opts for the cost of prevention measures to be borne by the operator or the State of origin (article 10). In this regard, the polluter pays principle is considered in its preventive dimension.


The majority of texts emanating from civil society have adopted this principle, with a view to giving it a general character. Both the Earth Charter and the IUCN draft Compact place the burden of costs on the “responsible party” or “initiator” of pollution. The New Delhi Declaration on Principles of International Law Relating to Sustainable Development explicitly extends this responsibility to “corporations”.

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