1. Introduction

Until recently, the automotive industry's primary focus has been to reduce road transport's contribution to urban air pollution and move towards carbon neutrality through hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles, with electric vehicles having taken the lead. When it comes to climate change and air quality, electric cars are clearly preferable to petrol or diesel cars. In this article, it is examined the international principles of environmental law briefly and the impact and benefits of electric vehicles on environmental law.

  1. General Principles of Environmental Law
  1. Sovereignty and Responsibility Principle

International environmental law has developed between two (2) contradicting principles. First principle is that states' have sovereign rights over their natural resources. Second, states should not damage to the environment. However, the concept of sovereignty is not absolute, and state's general duty is not to cause environmental damage to the environment of other states. 1992 Rio Declaration stated that: "states have, in accordance with principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and developmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other states or areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction."1 Therefore, In those areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, such as the high seas, the applicable concept is not one of sovereignty, but is one of common heritage of humanity. In the other words, global property is open and its wealth cannot be appropriated by states.

  1. The Precautionary Principle

Since scientific certainty often comes later for politicians and lawyers to protect against environmental danger, the burden of proof is switched. To wait for scientific proof regarding the impact of pollutants discharged into the environment may result in irreversible damage to the environment and human suffering. The precautionary principle requires that, if there is a strong suspicion that a certain activity may have environmentally harmful consequences, it is better to control that activity now rather than to wait for incontrovertible scientific evidence. This principle is expressed in the Rio Declaration, which stipulates in principle 15 Rio Declaration, where there are "threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation."2

  1. The Prevention Principle

The pollution prevention principle should be differentiated from the duty to avoid environmental harm. Under this new rule, a state is under the obligation to prevent damage within its own jurisdiction. Preventing environmental harm is cheaper, easier, and less environmentally dangerous than reacting to environmental harm that already has taken place. The prevention principle is the fundamental notion behind laws regulating the generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste and laws regulating the use of pesticides.

  1. The "Polluter Pays" Principle

The "polluter pays" principle has been a dominant concept in environmental law. A state responsible for a violation of international law has to stop the injurious conduct which may be a cause for damage environment and revised the condition that existed prior to the wrongful conduct. According to this principle if the state cannot to re-establish the condition due to its impossibility, the state should pay compensation.

It is a common opinion that international law lacks absolute or strict liability as a general rule. There is no single basis of international responsibility applicable in all circumstances. Therefore, international environmental law is not conclusive and definite on the standard of care to environmental obligations. Such treaties may regulate the absolute liability for these activities. However, strict or absolute liability is challenging to impute for activities that are not ultrahazardous.3

  1. Sustainable Development Principle

The principle of sustainable development has been defined by the 1987 Brundtland Report4 as a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The concept of sustainable development difficult to apply in many cases, primarily because the results of long-term sustainability analyses depend on the particular resources focused upon. For instance, a forest that will provide a sustained yield of timber in perpetuity may not support native bird populations. However, sustainable development, as reflected in international agreements, encompasses at least three elements: (i) intergenerational equity (ii) sustainable use of natural resources (iii) integration of environment and development.

  1. Electric Vehicles in the context of Environmental Law

Electric cars run at least partially on electricity. Unlike conventional vehicles that use a gasoline or diesel-powered engine, electric cars and trucks use an electric motor powered by electricity from batteries or a fuel cell.

  1. What are the environmental benefits by using electric vehicles?

There are several great benefits to electric vehicles than conventional petrol/diesel cars:

  1. Less Pollution: Driving an electric car provide to reduce harmful air pollution from exhaust emissions since an electric car has zero exhaust emissions.
  2. Renewable energy: An electric car is recharge with renewable energy and it supports to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions even further. It is recharged by solar energy system during the day. Another idea is to purchase Green Power from the electricity retailer. Then, even it is recharged from the grid, the greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.
  3. Eco-friendly materials: Not only is the operation of electric vehicles more environmentally friendly, it is also observed that a trend towards more eco-friendly production and materials of the cars. For instance, a car company considered the most fuel-efficient compact car with savings of up to $9,000 in 5 years. It is not only reducing greenhouse gas emissions but is also made up of recycled materials and the padding is made out of bio-based material.5
  1. How the make electric vehicles more sustainable and environmental?

European Environment Agency has been published the Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism report ("Report")6 regarding the progress of EU transport sector towards its environment and climate objectives. This Report brings a circular economy perspective to the electric car discussion, giving a lot attention to reuse, remanufacturing and recycling.

Firstly, it is necessary that make sure the electricity supply used for making and running electric cars comes from renewable sources and this is the significant influence factor on their environmental and health performance. Secondly, according to Report, these cars should last. In other words, squeezing the mileage out of every electric car that is being produced is vital. Therefore, if they are just driven for 70.000 kilometres and then scrapped, their overall environmental performance does not look good compared to conventional cars due to the extra energy used for their production. However, they are driven for 150.000 kilometres or more, the comparison strongly favours electric cars. This issue may help to increase the sustainability of electric cars and reducing the gas emissions.


Environmental law includes several significant principles which should be applied by countries and governments. These principles are (i) sovereignty and responsibility principle, (ii) the precautionary principle, (iii) the prevention principle, (iv) the "polluter pays" principle and (iv) sustainable development principle. The conventional car which run with petrol or diesel may be considered the biggest hazard for environment and air. Therefore, to provide environmental sustainability, to prevent environmental pollution, it is significant that crate awareness for using and manufacturing electric car and provide the continuance of this car.


1. United Nations Convention on the Rio Declaration of Environment and Development, June 15, 1992, principle 2, 31.

2. United Nations Convention on the Rio Declaration of Environment and Development, June 15, 1992, principle 15.

4. Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Report).

6. https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/transport/term

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.