PAWS, SKULLS, TEETH, homs and antlers from endangered species, including tigers and bears, are still sold at Taichi lek Market in Burma. Across the border in TbaUand, traffic of these illegal goods incurs strict punishment. Officials iii Thailand imposed tougher penalties on traders in 1991, after the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) banned the purchase ol wildlife products from that country.
Making Environmental Treaties Work Scientific American Dec 94
Many agreements aim to protect the global environment. But actually making them do so requires innovative approaches
by Hilary F. French
HILARY F. FRENCH is a senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute, where she has worked since 1987. She has studied the effects of trade on the environment, as well as ways to reform international institutions to promote en viromnentafly sustainable development. Her analyses have appeared in State of the World editions and other publica tions. French received an A.B. in history from Dartmouth College in 1986.
According to international law, the environment appears quite secure. Some l7O treaties, most of them drafted in the past 20 years, safeguard virtually every aspect of life on the earth. Air, land and sea and their myriad creatures are protected from hazardous waste, deforestation, overfishing, overhunting and most other possible threats to their wen-being. This perfect world remains largely the province of paper. inherent weaknesses in rules of intemational diplomacy render many enviroronmental treaties virtually meaningless. Because a systematic overhaul of the intergovernmental system-specificany the modus operandi of the United Nations-is unlikely, many negotiators have sought creative ways to toughen these accords. The effectiveness of environmental agreements is perhaps hindered most by the tradition that international decisions be unanimous. Thus, the final draft of treaties often satisfies the wishes of the most reluctant countries. For instance, more than 100 governments at the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de janeiro in June 1992 agreed on paper to battle climatic change. But at the insistence of the U.S., negotiators reworded the document so that it only urged-but did not require-countries to stabilize their carbon dioxide emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000. So that a few recalcitrant countries do not undermine the good intentions of others, some treaties include innovative voting mechanisms. When a consensus cannot be reached, they allow a qualified majority to add stronger measures. Often the amendment need not be ratified. All members are legally bound to it unless they expressly object, and in a few cases dissonant countries are not even afforded the option to withdraw. The Montreal Protocol, drafted in 1987 to halt the destruction of the ozone layer by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), includes provisions governed by such rules. The agreement pemiits two thirds of the 140 participating nations-who together constitute majorities of both developed and developing countriesto vote stricter controls into the protocol. in 1990 the agreement was strengthened to eventually prohibit all members from producing CFCS The outright ban, which responded to new scientific information on the rate of ozone depletion, replaced the protocol's original requirement that production of CFCs be merely cut in half. Two years later the target date for this goal was moved from the year 2000 to January 1, 1996. In both cases, consensus was reached. Undoubtedly, though, the fact that reluctant countries knew they would be outvoted heavily influenced their decisions. Reaching strong accords in this way, while not easy, is often less difficult than monitoring and enforcing them. Most international treaties provide for few penalties-and those that do rarely impose them. But simple methods such as peer pressure have recently emerged as powerful enforcement tools. Some treaties ask nations to report on how they have tried to fulffll their promises and how well these attempts have worked. When this information is made available, nongovernmental organizans (NGOs) can use it to embarrass remiss governments publicly. Peter M. Haas, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, found that the environmental group Greenpeace used such data to expose Britain's discharge of coal ash into the North Sea in January 1990, a violation of the spirit (if not the letter) of the 1972 Oslo Convention on ocean dumping.
Beyond moral persuasion and public embarrassment, trade incentives can secure compliance. Members of the Montreal Protocol are forbidden to purchase CFCs or products containing them from nations that have not agreed to the treaty. These provisions were an important factor in convincing more than 100 countries to join in the accord. World trade rules, however, threaten to jeopardize tills use of economic restrictions. In October 1991 and again in May 1994, panels convened under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) concluded that provisions set by the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act-namely, an embargo on importing tuna from Mexico, whose ftshermen were killing many dolphins while netting the commercial fish-violated GATT. The ruliing sets a dangerous precedent: if GATT can preclude countries from restricting trade with nations that harm the global environment, then there are few means of inducing offending countries to change their ways. "Soft laws" are one alternative to the options just described. These declarations can sometimes bring about more rapid action than do hard, binding agreements. Paradoxically, because countries are not legally obligated to adhere to these commitments, they are often more willing to make them. International agencies, sympathetic nations and NGOs can encourage soft laws through funding decisions and public campaigns. Soft laws tend to establish certain expectations-or create an international mindset-that can then form the basis for more permanent agreements. Agenda 21, a document more than 500 pages long on sustainable development that emerged from the Rio conference, is one example. It offers policy recommendations on such daunting issues as alleviating poverty and providing clean water around the globe. The ambitious guidelines challenge the financial and technical resources of many nations, but the hope is that they will inspire national govermnents and international agencies to make sweeping policy changes whenever they can. Already more than 100 nations have set up sustainable development commissions designed to translate Agenda 21 into action. The U.N. has formed a Commission on Sustainable Development charged with overseeing the implementation of the Rio accords. Agenda 21 also strongly encourages the work of citizens' groups, business coalitions and other NGOS. Because such groups do not use the obfuscating jargon of diplomacy, they can often explain failures in compliance and in negotiations more clearly than can goverm,nent representatives. They also frequently have access to crucial information that governments overlook or lack. For these reasons, such groups have played an increasingly important role in international enviromnental talks. hi light of the contributions NGOs made at the Rio conference, the new Sustainable Development Conunission has accredited more than 500 organizations to participate in its activities. Whether an agreement be soft or hard, developing nations often find it impossible to act on the accords they sign. Redressing this imbalance wfll depend in large part on providing financial and technical assistance to developing nations-and ensuring that funds are well spent. Before that can happen, however, the international community needs to develop better means for securing and dispensing such help. The UNCED secretariat estimated in 1992 that developing countries would need a total of $125 billion in aid every year to implement Agenda 21 -more than twice the amount of current development assistance. In Rio, industrial govermnents promised to give top priority to Agenda 21 goals when figuring their existing aid budgets, but they offered scant new funding. To administer help to protect the global environment, the Rio signatories voiced support for expanding the Global Environment Facility (GEF), an institution formed as a pilot project in 1990 under joint management of the World Bank, the U.N. Environment Program and the U.N. Development Program. In fact, they designated the GEF as an interim funding mechanism for the chmate convention and the treaty to protect biological diversity that were forged in Rio. Governments agreed this past March to make the GEF permanent and to replenish it with $2 billion over the next three years. All the same, the GEF is a controversial operation. Many developing countries and NGOs have distrusted its close association with the World Bank. NGOs maintain that the bank has long ignored local people in its large development projects. In addition, developing countries resent the fact that the bank distributes voting power according to monetary contributions. In the hope of overcoming these, the March agreement altered the facility's governance arrangements so that it will enjoy greater independence from the World Bank than it did in its pilot phase. The GEF's voting system now gives greater weight to recipient countries as well. Nevertheless, given these reforms, mernbers of the biodiversity and climate conventions are likely to agree to use the GEF as their permanent funding arm.
SELF-REPORTING by individual countries about their own progress in adhering to environmental treaties is not a sufficient monitoring tactic. Few nations submit the reports or data that any one treaty demands from them. Even when they do, the accounts frequently include very few details.
Funding, soft laws, trade incentives, peer pressure and majority vote practices could all be used more effectively if individual governments were willing to recognize a single international authority charged with negotiating and implementing most environ- mental treaties. Organizations such as the U.N. Environment Program or the Conuriission on Sustainable Develop- ment could be granted this task, or a new agency could be formed. A centralized operation could promote construc- tive cooperation between different treaty bodies that share similar goals and enable NGOs to participate more fully in negotiations-beneftts hindered by the current process. Indeed, the e)dsting system for designing and implementing enviromnental treaties involves a diffuse collection of U.N. offices and quasi-independent government environmental committees scattered around the globe. The General Assembly tends to create an international conmiittee-such as the international Negotiating Conunittee on Climate Change-every time a major agreement is up for discussion. The results are then passed on to other institutions to be administered. A group of treaty members, called the Conference of the Parties, meets periodically and formally oversees the implementation of their agreements. A smaller "implementation committee" often reports to this group. Secretariats, too, provide crucial support to these governmental groups, but they are hampered by insufficient funds and staff. For instance, the Montreal Protocol secretariat employs just five people and has a total budget of $2.5 million, less than 1 percent of the amount allotted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for air-quality operations. In some cases, this diffusion may have contributed to success. Small offices can sometimes tackle specific jobs better than can large bureaucracies. But more often this administrative structure-or lack thereof-has led to inefficiency and delays. As nations contemplate ways to consolidate and strengthen this system, they can borrow strategies from other fields of intemational relations. The Intemational Labor Organization offers a sound model. The organization provides a forum where participants can negotiate intemational standards on issues such as workplace safety, and it reviews whether members are complying with these standards. Furthermore, its unusual tripartite governing structure gives equal standing to business, government and union representatives. Creating international treaties and institutions strong enough to reverse the relentless momentum of global ecological decline is no simple task. To do so, sovereign nations must overcome their long-standing reluctance to cede power to international organizations, and these organizations must open their doors to nongovenimental participants. In the final analysis, though, it is in the selfinterest of all countries to take these steps, given that nothing less than the habitability of the planet is at stake. Just as the world has been transformed by the border-erasing effects of technology, pollution, trade and travel, so must be the process of international governance itself.
Under the Montreal Protocol, global consumption of ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons reduced from 1.3 billion kilograms in 1988 to some 510 kilograms in 1993 (graph, left). To encourage this trend the treaty has banned CFC use in the industrial world from January 1, 1996. As a result, many scientists are investigating less harmful alternatives. Thermoacoustics a technique that uses sound to produce cooling, placement for CFCs used in refrigeration. T (right) shows Steven Garrett of the Naval School displaying his prototype of a ther frigeration system.
Chemical substitutes, including hydrofluorocarbons show some promise as well. Because these do not contain chlorine, they do not damage the oxone layer. But they may be greenhouse gases, as are CFCs. The protocol signatories further established a $240 million fund in 1990 to help developing countries establish alternatives to CFCs before 2006, an extended deadline. An additional $510 million was pledged two years later. So far only $226 million has been collected. Still had the treaty not provided this money, countries and China most likely would not have participated and their use of CFCs would have continued to rise.