Too many conventions hurting environment
Increasing environmental awareness has resulted in the adoption of about 500 conventions, which paradoxically has hindered saving the planet.
Thu, Feb 24, 2011 at 10:58 AM
MEETINGS: Between 1992 and 2007, 540 meetings have been called under 18 international treaties, generating more than 5,000 decisions. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
Growing environmental awareness over the past two decades has resulted in the adoption of a plethora of some 500 conventions, which paradoxically has hindered saving the planet, experts said Thursday.
The 100 or so environment ministers gathered this week in Nairobi under the auspices of the UN environment agency were unanimous in recognizing the need for an in-depth reform of a system that has become a victim of its own success.
"Never in the last four to five years has the governing council been as clear in its assessment for the need for reform," UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner told AFP Thursday
On Thursday the ministers called for the question to be studied and if possible decided on at the next UN summit on sustainable development planned for June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro.
"Notwithstanding the impressive landscape of institutions, agreements and protocols, the environmental governance landscape of the here and now is increasingly fractured and fragmented," Steiner told the meeting.
A diplomat specializing in environmental issues put it even more bluntly: "There is no pilot in the plane."
UNEP is a long way behind the World Trade Organization or the World Health Organization. With a 2010 budget of 83 million dollars, it is one of only two UN agencies to be headquartered in Africa. Only 58 states, out of a total of 193 in the world, are members.
The agency has very little control over the international conventions that are springing up. Steiner mentioned that there were more than 500 such conventions but no one seemed able to give an exact figure.
The majority have been adopted since the 1992 earth summit in Rio. Today they form a thick mesh of laws that remain confusing even to specialists.
Each convention has its own secretariat, which scarcely communicates with the others.
"For the regulation of chemical products alone there are three major conventions. It took five years of talks not to merge them but simply to bring them under a common umbrella," sighed one specialist involved in the talks.
Between 1992 and 2007, 540 meetings have been called under 18 international treaties, generating more than 5,000 decisions. Developing countries are starting to feel overwhelmed.
The various conventions are anything but equal: the convention on climate change, adopted in 1992, easily collected some 100 billion dollars for its budget. The Convention to Combat Desertification, adopted two years later, is struggling to garner a tiny fraction of that amount.
"It's the poor countries' convention. Nobody cares," a diplomat said.
But beyond the facade of everything being unanimous, talks on how to harmonise the system have been deadlocked for years.
With the backing of their European Union partners, France and Germany have once again lobbied for the setting up of a "world environment organisation."
"We want to reinforce UNEP and change it to make it into a global instrument," French Ecology Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said.
Countries that are reticent, be it for political or budgetary reasons, include the United States, China, Russia and India.
"We have all agreed that UNEP needs to be reinforced. We have also decided to continue with our talks to see exactly how we're going to achieve that," said Spain's Environment Minister Rosa Aguilar Rivero, who also chairs UNEP's council of governors.
Copyright 2011 AFP Global Edition