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close this bookWIT's World Ecology Report - Vol. 07, No. 4 - Critical Issues in Health and the Environment (WIT, 1995, 16 p.)
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View the documentFood for Thought: On the Road to Istanbul - Habitat II: The City Summit
View the documentDid You Know?
View the documentThe Politics of Language in the Beijing Conference: Sex vs. Gender
View the documentGood News
View the documentInternational Environmental Law United Nations
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View the documentPoint of View: The Future is Urban: The Illusion of Change

International Environmental Law United Nations

The Rio Conference, UNCED, marked a turning point in the United Nations approach to environmental law. After dominating discussion, the concept of sustainable development, became the central theme and primary goal of Agenda 21, Chapters 8, 38, and 39 forge a new mandate for the UNEP, refocusing its efforts and obliging the agency to review and develop international environmental law in keeping with the principles of sustainable development while providing developing countries with the technical assistance to do the same.

In Chapter 39 Agenda 21 states, "The overall objective of the review and development of international environmental law should be to evaluate and to promote the efficacy of that law and to promote the integration of environmental and developmental policies through effective international agreements or instruments taking into account both universal principles and the particular and differentiated needs and concerns of all countries."

Shortly after UNCED, in September, 1992, the Governing Council met to address these two new responsibilities. As soon as May, 1993 they committed UNEP to that meeting's proposed goals, strategies, and activities by adopting the Montevideo Programme II.

As central element, the Montevideo Programme II calls for UNEP to foster the progress of environmental law in developing countries. Far from new, this 'capacity building' objective was first introduced twenty years earlier in a UN General Assembly Resolution of 1975. UNCED reinforced it as part of UNEP's mandate and, recognizing that environmental protection and sustainable development are inter-dependent, the Montevideo Programme II provides that the UNEP should coordinate its activities with UNDP.

Through technical assistance, training and simple exchanges of information, UNEP/UNDP joint activities have made substantial progress in a short time. Projects take a variety of forms. One of the most dynamic is the joint Project on Environmental Law and Institutions in Africa. The partnership harmonizes development know-how and environmental expertise. Steering Committee meetings for this project are attended by representatives from UNEP, UNDP, FAO, and the World Bank.

Chosen to participate the Project's 'Sub Regional Project in Africa,' Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda will receive technical assistance to help them establish environmental law frameworks which are tailored to sustainable development. A draft bill has already been submitted for debate in Uganda's Parliament, joint task forces will remain in the countries to aid in the creation of related institutional structures which will facilitate future legislation and enforcement capability.

Likewise, in Malawi, UNEP/UNDP is helping to fine tune a draft environmental bill before sending it to Parliament. Often, as with Mozambique presently, they will simultaneously produce a 'work plan', and later establish a task force to implement it.

Sao Tome and Principle has also prepared a draft environmental bill, leaving South Africa as the only one of the Project's 'First Phase' countries which is behind schedule. Although constitutional debate concerning the division of powers between federal and provincial governments has stalled progress, UNDP was recently invited to consult government officials regarding activities which might be undertaken in the interim.

In another joint initiative in the Seychelles, UNEP's ELI/PAC (Environmental Law and Institutions/Programme Activity Centre) will team up with UNCHS (Habitat) as consultants to give technical assistance and help design town and country planning legislation.

Other African projects for UNEP's ELI/PAC include Cameroon and Moroccan consultancies to inventory and examine international environmental conventions to which each country is a party. Officials will then evaluate the effectiveness of national legislation and suggest improvements and strategies for implementation.

In Southern Asia ELI/PAC, ROAP, SACEP (South Asia Cooperative Environmental Programme), and Jawaharlal Nehru University are planning a workshop for December, 1995, to relate sustainable development issues to their environmental legislation. SACEP countries include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

In the Caspian Sea Region ELI/PAC joined UNDP and World Bank officials in a fact finding mission in March, 1995. Their proposal for a regional convention for cooperation between the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan was well received, and the agencies are currently finalizing a project to provide funding by the Global Environmental Facility.

In the Region of Latin America and the Caribbean, UNEP recently helped Chile draft a Law on General Bases for the Environment. Both Uruguay and Panama develop law on environment impact assessment with UNEP technical assistance.

In Western Asia, UNEP has agreed to do a needs assessment at Yemen's request.

Regional capacity building projects are not the only activities in which UNEP coordinates its efforts with other agencies. Perhaps the leading example of the progressive development of international environmental law is the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The green house gas issues are as diverse as their producers. Developed and developing countries, countries with economies in transitions, the Association of Small Island States, and others have introduced a myriad of concerns, all of which are being addressed through comprehensive Agency interaction.

In fact, comprehensive interaction is becoming the norm. Eight different UN bodies, organizations, and specialized agencies attended prepatory meetings for the Washington Conference on Marine Pollution from Land Based Activities to be held in Washington D.C. on October 23.

The International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides has generated substantial activity recently, and the progress made illustrates the effectiveness with which UN agencies have been able to coordinate their efforts. The agreement establishes voluntary standards of conduct in an effort to ensure safe handling, establish responsible trade practices, and assist in developing countries in adopting controls which regulate pesticide use. It addresses international organizations, the governments of exporting and importing countries, industry, environmental groups, consumer groups, trade unions, and more, and thought it is administered by FAO, implementation requires close collaboration with UNEP, WHO, and GATT as well as the OECD, CEC, CEFIC, CMA, GIFAP, and the IOCU. The FAO and UNEP are currently working together to implement the principle of prior informed consent (PIC) which would provide countries with information regarding the use and shipment of banned or severely restricted pesticides.

A similar convention regarding the use and transport of chemicals is administered by UNEP. The London Guidelines for the Exchange of Information on Chemicals in International Trade encourages its members to create or strengthen national databases on toxic chemicals and to participate in a PIC system regarding the transport of banned and severely restricted chemicals. UNEP coordinates its administration with FAO, OECD, ILO, and the WHO.

In a new initiative, UNEP and the UN Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) met recently in Sweden to discuss the conformity of military establishments' hazardous waste policies to national environmental standards. Experts in the field are preparing a study comparing general practices and principles (if they exist) with existing national legal systems and international regimes already operating.

Nowhere is UNEP's commitment to fulfilling the mandates of Agenda 21 and the Montevideo Programme II more evident than in the regular Coordination meetings of UNEP and International Convention Secretariats. Preparatory documents include recommendations for improving the relationship between UNEP and Convention Secretariats, improving informational exchange, and a recently completed in depth study of Trade Related Mechanisms and Implementation and Compliance Mechanisms in UNEP administered Conventions.

These early joint projects have been successful, and perhaps their most valuable achievement has been increased confidence among participants who are beginning to believe that in partnerships they might have found the means to tackle sustainable developments most menacing obstacles. UNEP Will continue to refine the process in future projects which are likely to include the use of biotechnology, issues of intellectual and property rights regarding genetic resources, and technology transfer.

SOURCES: Environmental Law and Institutions/Programme Activity Centre. "Monthly Information Circular." Volumes 1-9; Handl, Grunther, Editor-in-Chief. Yearbook of International Environmental Law, Volume 4,1993. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994); Sand, Peter, Principle Programme Officer, UNCED. The Effectiveness of International Environmental Agreements. (Cambridge: Grotius Publications Limited, 1992)