Environment treaties unequal
by Bhaskar Roy Barman on 22 Aug 2008 0 Comment

Environment has two meanings. One meaning postulates environment is a sum-total of circumstances, objects or conditions that surround animals, plants and human beings. The second meaning branches out into two directions: the first relates to the complex of edaphic or biotic features which act upon an organism or ecological community. This speaks of the impact of environment on all living beings, as studied in earth sciences, life sciences and weather sciences. The second version is the aggregate of social and cultural conditions that influence the life of an individual or community. This urges creativity to nourish itself on the concept of environment.


In 1991, the Social Science Research Council’s Committee on Research launched a research consortium to explore how and the extent to which countries implement and comply with international environmental treaties. The committee presented the following observations which, inter alia, stress international environmental accord.


The international environmental accords – treaties and international legally binding instruments – have the potential to transform the ways in which  humanity uses the planet, the quality of lives lived all over the world, relations among states, the global economic system and the development paths taken by both advanced and industrializing countries and so on. Some researchers have not ruled out the possibility of international authorities being created with unprecedented scope and power predicated on the economic leverage of only a few countries. They fear these accords might impose sanctions on violators or reward compliance to prevail upon countries to conform. A country, to conform to these accords, could have no alternative but to reshape its energy production, transportation, industrial processes, agriculture, animal husbandry pattern, settlement patterns and migration and population-growth patterns.


Countries have already, suffice it to say, negotiated many international treaties and other agreements with a view to protecting the environment and conserving natural resources. It should be noted in this connection that while some accords existed before the Stockholm Conference of 1972, most have been negotiated since then.


International accords achieve their effectiveness in how governments implement them by adopting registration or regulations, or in how they comply with them by observing those regulations and commitments which are contained in the international accord. 


There are five international treaties chosen to maximize the knowledge likely to be gained as to the ways of managing global environmental change. As Harold K. Jacobson and Edith Brown Weiss say in ‘Strengthening Compliance with International Environmental Accords’ [in ‘The Politics of Global Governance,’ ed. Paul F. Diehl, second ed., p. 420] ‘We have deliberately avoided the preconception that the only kind of international environmental agreement that can be entered into is one that regulates emissions; there is considerable variety among these treaties’ in terms of what concerns them and how they deal with it.


The authors add that they have selected only the treaties ‘for which there is a considerable number of signatories and for which there is already some experience with implementation and compliance.’ However the five treaties chosen include three dealing with the management of natural resources and two with how to control pollution. These include:-  UNESCO Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and National Heritage, 16 November 1972; Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, 3 March 1973; International Tropical Timber Agreement, 18 November 1983; International Maritime Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by dumping Wastes and other Matter,  29 December 1972; and Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, 6 September 1987.


The World Heritage Convention, 1972, by exercising constraint on the use of designated  sites within a country, serves as a useful model for the increasingly common international legal instruments designed to affect a country’s behaviour towards its own cultural and natural resources. The objective discussed at the convention may, if followed in toto, interfere with the sovereignty, particularly of a developing country, in matters of cultural and natural resources. 


The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), 1073, designed to control international trade in endangered species of plants and animals, serves as a useful model for studying the technique of protecting the environment by controlling trade in  endangered natural resources or environmentally hazardous products. The objectives, if properly utilized, may benefit individual countries if the individual countries have a good share in controlling their own trade. 


The International Tropical Timber Agreement, 1983, negotiated to facilitate trade in timber from tropical forests, includes the major producing and consuming countries and is primarily regarded as a commodity agreement. Among its objectives is the development of national policies aimed at sustainable utilization and conservation of tropical forests and their genetic resources, and maintaining ecological balance in the region concerned.


The London Convention, 1972, intended to protect the marine environment from dumping of certain kinds of pollutants, enjoins upon states the urgent need to prohibit dumping of the materials listed in two annexes and to strictly enforce measures against vessels or aircraft registered in their territory, flying their flag or otherwise under their jurisdiction.  


Negotiated within the broad terms of the Vienna Convention, 1985, a framework that commits parties to taking action to protect both human health and environment from the adverse effects of activities that modify the stratospheric ozone layer, the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, 1987 imposes the most arduous obligations on parties to any of these conventions. 


The five treaties mentioned above are relevant to understanding how environmental hazards are endangering the whole population of India.  I shall conclude with the factors that have involved the treaties.


Among the five treaties, the London Convention (CITES) and the Montreal Protocol impose relatively precise obligations so as to make it relatively easy to judge whether or not states are fulfilling the obligations imposed upon them. The World Heritage Convention and the Tropical Timber Agreement are much vaguer, thus rendering more difficult the assessment of implementation and compliance. 


The standard feature used by the treaties to monitor implementation and compliance is the filing of reports. The international secretariats are at liberty to use this reporting exercise as a method of helping them to clarify for government officials what these treaties aim for. It is not as difficult to comply with the obligation imposed by the other three treaties as it is to comply with the obligations imposed by the Tropical Timber Agreement, for the difficulty with the Tropical Timber Agreement is the sense that burdens are disproportionately imposed upon the producer countries and that the consumer countries’ activities as concerns their forests are unregulated. 


The author is a short story writer and lives in Agartala

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