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Back to top. The convention came into effect in and has over parties. The United States has signed but not ratified the convention. More than countries are members. Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer The Montreal Protocol—and subsequent revisions—is the primary international regime for controlling the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances such as CFCs, halons, and methyl bromide.

As of June , states, including virtually all major industrialized countries and most developing countries, had become parties to the protocol. The United States signed the protocol on September 16, , and ratified it on April 21, The protocol and its subsequent revisions modified the original Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. No single institution legislates or manages international environmental problems.

Scores of official and semiofficial organizations and agencies have at least some environmental mandate. In the future, global environmental governance will continue to involve an array of multilateral, national, and intergovernmental organizations together with citizen groups and treaties. This is as it should be, given that the concept of sustainable development embraces so many different disciplines and issues. No one organization has the authority or political strength to serve as a central clearinghouse or coordinator. In recent years, financial and political support of UNEP has lagged, and most observers question whether it can effectively champion environmental issues within the UN system.

The result is that international environmental governance is still spread across too many institutions with diffuse, conflicting, or weak authorities.

Climate Change Regulations for the 21st Century | Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy

Given these problems in the UN architecture for international environmental governance, there may be no escaping the need for broad institutional reform. Several important leaders have called for such reform.

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Other specific proposals have been advanced, including the creation of an environmental organization with powers analogous to that of the World Trade Organization. Such an organization could consolidate the different environmental secretariats and UNEP, creating one organization responsible for ensuring the implementation and enforcement of environmental treaties.

If a binding set of principles existed, a World Environmental Organization could also resolve environmental disputes more efficiently than can the current processes. Less ambitious, and perhaps more realistic in the short term, would be to strengthen the growing number of regional environmental institutions that are being established to manage shared natural resources. For example, the International Joint Commission between the U. Regional fisheries management organizations are also emerging in many areas of the world and have been given potentially strong enforcement powers under recently negotiated global fisheries agreements.

The concept of sustainable development requires the integration of environmental concerns into the fields of international trade, investment, and finance. Since the Earth Summit, environmentalists have made significant advances. Environmental issues are now legitimate concerns for discussion at such organizations as the World Bank and the WTO. Indeed most of the international financial institutions, e. Even the IMF has created an environmental unit albeit thus far with only one person.

Despite these policy and staffing advances, the successful practical integration of the environment and the global economy lags far behind. The approach of the international financial institutions IFIs continues to emphasize mitigating environmental impacts from poorly designed and inappropriate projects, rather than finding ways to proactively promote environmentally sustainable development. More importantly, the IFIs and trade institutions have not fundamentally reconsidered their general approach to building a global economy in light of the constraints implied by the concept of sustainable development.

As a result, these institutions have failed to reduce significantly their adverse impact on the global environment. Global Financial Architecture and the Environment. In light of the role that foreign capital flight played in precipitating the Asian and Russian economic crises, an increasing number of people have begun to question the dominant global economic prescription offered by the IMF and the World Bank.

This prescription has long been promoted by the U. Department of Treasury as a critical component of U. As these capital investments have increasingly become short-term and speculative, the social utility of protecting capital flows is increasingly questionable. Protecting the rights of countries to impose capital controls, particularly on short-term investments, may be critical for ensuring both long-term stability and increased benefits from natural resources for local people. Over the past decade, environmentalists have also shown that the IFIs frequently saddle developing countries with loan conditions that increase the pressures on natural resource exploitation with devastating environmental consequences.

Among other things, these structural adjustment policies SAPs significantly increase the rate of forest harvesting, mining, and fishery harvests. While these SAPs are increasing natural resource exploitation, many governments are also being directed to reduce public spending, including funds for environmental protection and natural resource management. To make matters worse, large structural adjustment loan packages heap additional debt onto already heavily indebted countries.

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But the United States must take a much greater leadership role in prodding the World Bank and the IMF to make broader and deeper cuts in developing country debt. Such a step could help alleviate the pressures on low-income countries to exploit their environments in order to service their foreign debts. Greening International Trade. Negotiated by the outgoing Bush administration, NAFTA originally avoided addressing the environmental or labor aspects of free trade.

Despite occasional promises to the contrary, free trade has become the paramount value driving most U. Lost is the balanced goal of integrating environment and trade as pronounced at the Earth Summit and subsequently in the environmental side agreement to NAFTA.


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Ultimately, the problem may be that liberalizing trade and investment is too often viewed as a positive goal in its own right. Lost is any critical analysis of whether such liberalization always leads to improvements in human welfare and quality of life. Goals such as environmental protection, human rights, and social equity—which are arguably more closely linked to human welfare than is liberalized trade—have been relegated to the back seat during the drive toward free trade.

Only by honestly evaluating the environmental and social impact of liberalizing trade and investment, sector by sector, can we determine whether expansion or contraction of the world trade system is more likely to lead to a sustainable future.

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Thus the United States should support calls by environmentalists for a thorough analysis of the impacts of current trade policies on environmental sustainability before supporting any expansion of liberalized trade and investment policies. Respecting Global Environment Agreements. IFIs and trade institutions also need to do a better job of mainstreaming concerns about the environment into their day-to-day operations. This general issue is highlighted by the way in which these institutions relate to the multilateral environmental agreements for example, the climate change regime or the Montreal Protocol with respect to ozone depletion.

The IFIs have yet to prohibit funding projects that exacerbate the very same problems that these global environmental regimes are meant to address. Overseas Private Investment Corporation OPIC has recently adopted a hopeful approach, announcing that it would not finance any projects that are inconsistent with certain international environmental obligations—for example, projects that use ozone-depleting substances controlled by the Montreal Protocol, projects that manufacture certain toxic chemicals, or projects affecting sites listed under the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

Yet OPIC continues to finance projects that have a significant negative impact on the climate system.


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  4. Similarly, the WTO still struggles with how to dovetail international trade law with international environmental agreements—although in a recent decision, a WTO dispute panel did agree that international environmental agreements should be taken into account when deciding an international trade dispute. Balancing Investment Rights with Privileges. In promoting broad investment agreements, such as the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment MAI , the United States and other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development OECD countries are trying to formalize into international law a reduction in the power of national and local governments to control the environmental and social impacts of foreign investment.

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    Sovereign nations should be able to retain the right to regulate how foreign investors operate in their territory and to determine the extent to which local people should be given preferential treatment with respect to local resources. Although this may in some cases lead to reduced environmental protection, ensuring that local people benefit from natural resource exploitation is not only fair but, in the long run, will likely lead to more sustainable development.

    Although transnational corporations often operate in developing countries with higher environmental standards than do local companies, transnationals typically follow lower standards than they practice at home. Adhering to lower standards in developing countries raises serious questions of equity and competitiveness. To minimize the impact of lower standards abroad, the United States should ban the export of domestically prohibited technologies and goods and should impose minimum environmental standards on U.

    The United States should also provide fair and equal judicial access to foreign citizens and communities harmed by environmental damage caused by U. Greening Technology Transfers. Many of these opportunities for environmental investments are being created or stimulated by international and domestic law. For example, the Kyoto Protocol under the climate change regime now requires a reduction in net greenhouse gas emissions in industrial countries, which may in turn create a massive new market for renewable and efficient energy technologies.

    Transferring these green technologies to developing countries should be a priority of both U. Such lending should be earmarked for shifting societies to appropriate, nonpolluting technologies and not simply for improving the efficiencies of fundamentally unsustainable technologies, such as coal-fired power plants or nuclear reactors. Perhaps the most promising development for protecting the global environment since the Earth Summit is the rise of a global environmental movement.

    The number of environmental nongovernmental organizations NGOs addressing international issues, particularly in developing countries, has exploded in recent years, as has their capacity to build networks, gather and analyze technical information, and gain the attention of key policymakers. Virtually every country has at least one environmental NGO, many of which actively seek to collaborate with their colleagues from other countries.

    The Internet, in particular, provides a vast opportunity for forming and maintaining global networks, sharing information and experiences, and coordinating international lobbying efforts.

    International Environmental Law and Policy for the 21st Century

    In this regard, the most important developments are not in the formation of permanent federations or groups of formal networks but in the ability of temporary networks and campaigns to form, adapt, and dissolve readily. This dynamic process allows for concentrated efforts through new and changing alliances that focus on specific issues. It allows coordinated action in many different countries around the same issue, with little need for expensive infrastructure or costly planning meetings. Success often depends as much on internal diplomacy—the ability to maintain the interest of a large number of NGOs through the use of information technology—as on any external communication strategy.

    In the Internet world, NGOs may have a slight advantage over corporations in that the informality of the NGO community helps in conducting business through the Internet, and trust can build quickly among NGOs with shared goals and vision. Protecting Unrestricted Citizen Access to the Internet. Effective Internet use by citizen movements has not gone unnoticed by those who benefit from isolating civil society.

    Given recent pronouncements by several countries,—including Russia and Vietnam—about restricting or monitoring international Internet communication, and given the ongoing discussions by U.


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    Democratizing International Environmental Law. Traditionally only nation-states have had the right to participate in the making, interpretation, and implementation of international law. This model is being challenged with respect to international environmental law, however, as many nonstate actors assume more prominent roles. Nowadays nonstate actors—for example, transnational corporations and NGOs—gather their own information, make their own alliances, and expect to participate fully in international affairs.

    To be sure, the primary impact of NGOs is indirect—through pressuring national governments—but in recent years NGOs have also begun to participate directly in international environmental negotiations. For example, the U. A few forums also now exist that give citizens a more direct role in enforcing stronger environmental policies. Prodded by NGOs and donor governments, for example, the World Bank created an inspection panel in Although the panel process has become highly politicized, in almost every instance claimants have received some relief and have triggered important discussions and debate about reforms at the highest level of the World Bank.

    All these citizen forums need to be strengthened and others created to expand the role of citizens in protecting the global environment. The expansion of citizen rights within the international system will come at a cost, however. As nation-states relinquish their monopoly on international policymaking, corporations not just individuals or civil society organizations will also gain greater access and power. Already the influence of corporations on formal international governance structures is apparent.

    UNEP has also sought contributions from both environmental groups and industry to help pay for the negotiations of a binding treaty on persistent organic pollutants. Environmental groups will not be able to compete with the chemical industry in a treaty negotiation if financial contributions become the currency for access and political influence. Transparent and accountable procedures in international affairs can temper rising corporate influence. Campaigns to press for increased access to information and to attain citizen rights to participate in international institutions are ongoing simultaneously at many different international institutions.

    A minimum level of citizen-based rights to information, participation, and independent review should be provided at all international institutions. Currently no minimum procedures or standards exist, and civil society ends up duplicating its efforts for improving governance at every institution. As the United States has been a leader in promoting greater transparency and participation at individual international organizations, it should also promote harmonization of minimum standards for international governance through an administrative procedures treaty.

    Integrating Human Rights and the Environment. Human rights laws may also present important opportunities for gaining better environmental protection. Intuitively, people support the fundamental human right to enjoy minimum amounts of air and water free of contamination; to grow crops in a stable climate system on land protected from harmful ultraviolet radiation; in short, to live and raise their children in an environment conducive to human life and health. Regardless of whether the human right to a healthy environment is recognized, however, the relationship between environmental protection and human rights is a natural one.

    Environmental damage is often worse in countries and in areas where human rights abuses are greatest, particularly where outside forces are driving the exploitation of valuable natural resources—for example, gold or oil—over the objections of local communities. Leading environmental activists such as Chico Mendes and Ken Saro Wiwa have been killed and many others have been beaten for raising their voices.

    In many of these instances, the international human rights movement offers the best hope for protection from internal oppression. In hindsight, we can now see that the UN Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janiero never effectively addressed the speed and scale of the global economy. Although UNCED raised questions about unsustainable levels of consumption and emphasized the goal of sustainable development over economic growth, the conference did not herald a significant shift away from the global preoccupation with economic growth.

    Indeed, at least until the economic crises in Asia, Russia, and Brazil, the s witnessed an unprecedented and uninterrupted drive toward a global economy, with virtually no recognition of the goal of sustainable development. Globalization is being supported by international policies and institutions that attempt to remove regulatory barriers to the flow of goods, services, and capital.

    No set of governments or institutions is managing the global economic tide, which is strong and unpredictable. At least with respect to environmental protection, international organizations both economic institutions and environment and development bodies lack both the authority and the will to manage the global market for sustainable development.

    Moreover, agreements such as the MAI—designed to facilitate global markets—will undermine national efforts to impose environmental protections. As we have discussed, scenarios for imposing environmental controls on global markets involve greatly strengthening current global environmental policy and institutional frameworks. Global economic regimes could even be greened from the inside if leading economic powers made sustainable development a priority. Human rights, too, may provide a mechanism for checking the environmental excesses of the global market economy, although complicated and technical environmental problems are generally more conducive to complex management regimes than to a black-and-white system of minimum rights.