The Great Lakes as an Environmental Heritage of Humankind: An International Law Perspective

Since 1985, the eight Great Lakes states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec have cooperated to prevent almost all diversions of water from the Great Lakes basin. In 2005, the eight states signed an Agreement to create a tiered system of reviews for diversions and a draft interstate Compact, which creates a binding process to regulate diversions. This cooperation is primarily a state initiative, supported by the federal governments in both countries, which has paid little attention to the international character of the lakes. This Essay argues that there are three major benefits to the region from the incorporation of international environmental law into the anti-diversion regime. First, the recent Compact is an important recognition of the Lakes as a common heritage of human kind. Second, the success of the regime will be aided by the involvement of the International Joint Commission (IJC) in diversion issues because of its broader perspective on Great Lakes issues. Third, international law serves as an additional buffer against the invocation of international and domestic free trade laws to unravel the proposed environmental-navigation protection regime.