| THE ENVIRONMENTAL DECADE IN REVIEW
The Convention on Global Climate
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC),
when adopted in Rio, was an imperfect instrument. It had no timetables, no specific
objectives and no explicit values for emissions reductions. The Convention did however
pose the basic principle, namely that it was necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Convention also reflects the precautionary principle and certainly endorses the
principle of "common but differentiated responsibility" since the primary
obligations are laid upon the developed countries. The UNFCCC has since Rio been completed
by the Kyoto Protocol. This Protocol is also not a perfect instrument but at least it has
some substance, with some emissions reduction targets to aim for, a timetable and
mechanisms for involving developing countries. The Kyoto Protocol will also need to be
developed further at the next Conferences of the Parties. Furthermore, for it to become
effective it will have to be ratified by the major developed countries, particularly the
United States which represents nearly 25% of world emissions. The ratification procedures
need to be pushed forward as rapidly as possible. Parliamentarians have an important role
to play in this respect, namely by lobbying their respective governments and colleagues.
Biodiversity, Forests and
At Rio, the Convention on Biodiversity (UNCBD) was adopted. It has
now entered into force although it has not been ratified by a major player; the United
States. It was not a faultless instrument either and therefore much effort has been
devoted to developing it, in particular the draft Protocol on Biosafety. The basic
Convention reflects again a bargain between developed and developing countries, which also
embodies the Precautionary Principle and the Principle of Common but Differentiated
Responsibility. The essence of the agreement was that while most of the biological
diversity is indeed in the South, the North would assist the South to protect, develop and
sustainably harvest its biological richness. This would be done in situ, and developing
countries would always get a percentage of the exploitation of their biological resources.
There are different perceptions of what this bargain meant, particularly with all its
implications for intellectual property rights. It was on this issue and on that of greater
protection for developing countries in relation to the export of Genetically Modified
Organisms (GMOs) that the negotiations in Cartagena this year foundered.
The Rio Summit also resulted in a declaration of Forests, which has
lead on to the creation of an International Forum on Forests (IFF) and is making some
progress. However, the views on how to proceed are so diverse that negotiators have
certainly not made as much progress as they would have hoped for in 1992. The Rio meeting
also resulted in a Convention to Combat Desertification which was adopted in 1995. Here
again some progress is being made, but both in the case of Forests and Desertification
there is a clear need for better co-ordination, particularly between donors and
recipients, and for more project funds to be forthcoming and to be better spent.
Many important issues could not be dealt with adequately during the
Rio process and merited a conference of their own. The Population Summit took place in
Cairo in 1994, the Social Summit was organised in Copenhagen in 1995, Beijing hosted the
Conference on Women that same year and the Conference on Human Settlements took place in
Istanbul in 1996. All these issues are clearly connected to sustainable development. The
nexus of development, environment, population growth, urbanisation and the role of women,
is one that is inextricably related. When working for the protection of the environment,
the actors must be far more mindful of the social pillar of sustainable development.
Agenda 21 is undoubtedly the most important and complete document
that came out of the Rio Conference. It has become the blueprint for sustainability and
forms the basis for sustainable development strategies since then. Although it is not an
easy read having being written in UN parlance, nor a perfect document, it has engendered
one of the great and unexpected successes of the Rio Conference, i.e. the development of
the Local Agenda 21. Those who painstakingly negotiated this document word by word never
thought that local authorities and NGOs around the globe were going to pick it up and run
with it so successfully. There are now 3000 Local Agenda 21 worldwide.
The UN Commission on Sustainable
Rio also created for itself a follow-up organisation, the Commission
on Sustainable Development (CSD) which every year reviews overall progress, in particular
on Agenda 21. The CSD has had some good successes in its deliberations and decisions on
trade and the environment, on waste management, chemicals, sustainable tourism and water.
The Commission has also been the venue for the review conference known as the UN General
Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) or Rio+5. This meeting did not mark the step which had
been hoped for, because of the extremely tense atmosphere within the UN in New York, and
above all because of the broken promises of Rio in relation to greater aid and transfer of
technology from the North to the South.
Trade, Globalisation and the
One of the issues left out in Rio was Trade and the Environment. Lack
of time and the fact that the Uruguay Round was grinding towards its conclusion are the
main reasons behind this. Fortunately there is a mention of sustainable development within
the founding statutes of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and a Committee on Trade and
Environment (CTE) has been created. While that Committee is working hard but making very
little progress, globalisation has been streaking ahead. As a result, trade is undoubtedly
freer but is it fairer? Foreign Direct Investment is now 6, possibly 10 times , as large
as Official Development Aid. The multinational corporations have an ever larger share of
the worlds trade and are merging to become even stronger organisations. Against this
backdrop the negotiations of the CTE do not weigh heavily in the balance. Sustainable
progress cannot be achieved on the narrow basis which has been used to date. The next
round of negotiations of the WTO will have to be placed in the context of sustainability.
Specific measures must also be devised to assist developing countries and trade and the
environment must be acknowledged as mutually supportive.
Health, Food and the Environment
This is another issue which was only considered briefly in Rio but
has in the meantime become one of the "make or break" issues. In developed
countries the concentration has mainly been on GMOs, on their virtues, their defects and
also on whether they should be exported to developing countries or not. In developing
countries the problem is another, namely the inequality of food distribution and in some
cases scarcity, hunger and famine. The issue of contaminated food in which environmental
pollutants play a strong role, has been seen embarrassingly within Europe recently, but
occurs almost worldwide. Health and environment protection legislation is largely in place
already, the problems mostly lie with enforcement. Here again parliamentarians have a
strong role to play.
For all those working towards sustainability and a better environment
it is vital to keep all the above mentioned issues together in their minds. As the
Brundtland Report already underlined in 1987, they are all connected and need to be
addressed as part of the same problematic.
There are two important upcoming meetings where sustainability will
need to be high on the agenda. These are the Millennium Round of the WTO and the next
Earth Summit, Rio+10 which will take place in 2002.
Sustainability is about the long term, whereas conversely much of
politics is about the short term. GLOBE has shown itself to be an organisation that is
very effective in putting the long term considerations on the agenda and making the
short-termists pay attention to them. To consolidate the gains of this decade and truly
make a sustainable success of Rio+10 and the Millennium Round, GLOBE will have to keep up
the pressure within its respective legislatures and governments worldwide.
Speech delivered at the 14th GLOBE International General Assembly
(August 1999) by Margaret Brusasco-Mackenzie, DG XI, European Commission, Vice
- The Brundtland Report
- No review of the decade would make sense without referring to the Brundtland Report,
"Our Common Garden" which was truly groundbreaking and comprehensive. It
launched the philosophy of sustainable development with its three pillars: economic,
social and environmental. It addressed all the main areas; the global commons, population
and food security, energy, industry, urban challenges, peace, security, development and
the environment, institutional and legal change, the problems of debt, aid, trade and
investment. It was indeed a huge menu from which we selected certain elements to deal at
the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio in 1992.Many of the issues raised
are by their very nature ongoing, e.g. forest policies. Some we have begun to tackle, such
as trade, development and environment and there are others where we have barely scratched
the surface, e.g. questions of environment and security. The Brundtland Report provided
the backdrop, the framework in which environmental actors are still working.
- The Rio Summit
- In 1990 the negotiations began for the Rio Summit using as a basis
the Brundtland Report. Part of the philosophy of this report was that governments are not
necessarily the main actors in the process of sustainable development. Any progress
implies the involvement of all actors at all levels. Local governments, the business
sector, the scientific and academic communities, indigenous people and NGOs both
environmental and developmental were involved in the Rio preparatory process. The
participation of NGOs in a UN process was decisive mainly because of the number and
quality of the NGOs involved and because they were allowed to play a much larger part than
is customary within the UN system. In effect, the Rio process opened the doors to the UN
for NGOs in a large measure. It was also useful because for the first time, environment
and development NGOs were obliged to enter into a profound dialogue in an effort at
finding a common cause. This common cause is a condition sine qua non for sustainable
- The Rio Summit in 1992 was the first major conference of the decade.
It attracted 103 Heads of State who stayed, who negotiated with one another and who
endorsed the outcomes. It engendered parallel events by the business sector as well as the
joyous forum of the NGOs. The outcomes of Rio were; the Rio Declaration, the Framework
Convention on Climate Change, the Convention to Combat Desertification, Agenda 21 and the
Forest Principles. The Rio Declaration has become a bedrock for environmental policy
makers and has introduced two crucial principles; the "Precautionary Principle"
and the Principle of "Common but Differentiated Responsibility". The basic
bargain struck at Rio was that all countries would adopt a model of sustainable
development rather than the "go for growth at all costs" model. Since this would
inevitably involve expenses and constraints for developing countries, developed countries
were to support them with greater financial assistance and with transfer of technology.
All countries, in particular the industrialised countries, should also aim for sustainable
production and consumption patterns, consequently reducing the burden that they put on the
earth's finite and often frail resources.
and Wetlands: The Vital Link" - The 7th Conference of the Parties to the
What was the conference
The Conference of Contracting Parties (COP) takes place every three
years and approves resolutions, recommendations and technical guidelines to further
application of the Convention. This years theme was "People and Wetlands:
The Vital Link" in order to highlight the important role that wetlands play as
significant assets of the natural infrastructure upon which human development and
well-being is based.
COP7 dealt with a large number of substantive issues ranging from the
role of the Convention in the management of fresh water resources and in response to the
global water crisis, proposed guidelines for reviewing laws and institutions, developing
and applying national wetlands policies, ensuring local peoples participation,
wetlands risk assessment and international co-operation.
The Secretary Generals
report points to progress
Wetlands are rapidly entering national and international agendas, yet
in most countries, wetlands are still considered mostly from the perspective of protected
areas, noted the Ramsar Convention Secretary Generals report which provided a
picture of the current status of implementation of the Convention.
The report was based on the analysis of the 106 National Reports
(NRs) received from contracting parties and showed that while progress had been made in
implementing the Convention in many countries, only a disappointingly limited number of
them used the Strategic Plan 1997-2002 as a planning tool.
Some key points raised by the report included:
- The 7th Conference of Parties to the Ramsar Convention
(COP7) hosted by the government of Costa Rica took place in San Josť from 10 to 18 May
1999. Over 1 500 delegates, comprising representatives of the 120 Contracting Parties plus
observers from intergovernmental institutions, NGOs, the private sector and individual
experts, attended the meeting.
"Among other issues, COP7 emphasised the restoration
of degraded wetlands, an area in which the Rennies Wetlands Project (RWP)
specialises," comments David Lindley, National Coordinator of the RWP. "The
RWP was one of the few NGOs in a sea of government representatives. It is also one of the
few organisations working on the ground in non-protected areas. Networking with wetlands
specialists from around the world made us realise that we are on the right track with our
- - In the area of development and implementation of national wetland
policies (NWP), 22 Contracting Parties (CPs) indicated that they had an NWP/ Strategy or
Action Plan, 31 said these were being developed and 24 said such instruments were planned
for the near future.
- - The Ramsar Bureau Book on Economic Valuation of Wetlands was well
received and economic valuation is perceived as a key area to help decision-makers and
- - 92 countries reported that Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs)
are required by law but most do not know how effectively these are applied.
- - 76 CPs indicated that wetland rehabilitation is taking place but
most projects are small and piecemeal. Restoration can either cost billions such as
the Everglades rehabilitation project in Florida or it can be done by local people
using low cost technology.
- 62 Parties reported that they have implemented education programmes
including wetland elements, and 66 CPs reported NGO action in this area. Forty-three CPs
reported that wetlands are part of formal education curricula.
- Expansion of the Conventions scope
- COP7 was significant in that it broadened the scope of the Convention
beyond focussing on waterbirds and into sustainable development, biodiversity and global
water issues, comments John Dini, environmental officer at the wetlands conservation
programme of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, a member of the official
South African delegation in San Jose.
- Dini says there were a number of useful resolutions and
recommendations that came out of COP7 including those of developing national wetland
policies, involving local communities, education and integrating wetland conservation into
river basin management. COP7 equipped the Convention with the means to broaden its
objectives, only to have expectations dampened by the delegates unwillingness to
increase funding for the Bureau.
- "The expansion of the Conventions scope into highly
politicised areas such as water resource management carries potential risks as well as
benefits," says Dini. For Ramsar, this means the intrusions of political
realities into what had previously been a placid environmental process. Politics is
however inevitable as Ramsar concerns itself more and more with the important area of the
global water crisis. With less and less water available, it is anticipated that wetlands
and their crucial role in the water cycle will take centre stage in global politics.
Key guidelines and action plans adopted
by contracting parties
- Guidelines for establishing participatory processes to involve local
communities and indigenous people in the management of wetlands
- Summary of lessons learned from participatory management case
- 1. Incentives for local involvement and wise use are essential:
everyone must benefit in the long term.
- 2. Trust among stakeholders is essential and must be developed
- 3. Flexibility is required
- 4. Knowledge exchange and capacity building are fundamental
- 5. Continuity of resources and effort are important.
- Guidelines for integrating wetland
conservation and wise use into river basin management
- It broadly suggested that countries
- 1. Create Insitutional frameworks
- 2. Assess the role of wetlands in water management
- 3. Minimise the impacts of land use
- 4. Maintain natural water regimes
- 5. Foster international co-operation