cooperation across countries is imperative. Our resources such as air and water or our species such as migratory birds don’t see borders. Challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss need concentrated action around the globe if they are to be tackled. And while we hear a lot about the global agreements that have been negotiated on climate change such as the Kyoto Protocol or the Convention on Climate Change also known as the UNFCCC, we rarely read about anything else.
But countries around the globe have concluded to a number of agreements on protecting biodiversity, marine species, air pollution, the elimination of chemicals and metals as well as protecting the ozone layer. Here are three global treaties that are worth finding more about:
Convention on Biological Diversity
The Convention on Biological Diversity also known as the Biodiversity Convention, is a legally binding treaty signed by 193 countries which was first introduced in 1992¹. Its objective is to develop national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity which directly supports the livelihoods of billions and is a cornerstone of our economy.
Specifically, the Convention has three main goals²:
- conservation of biological diversity (or biodiversity)
- sustainable use of its components
- fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources
Signatories to the Convention are required to develop strategies and actions plans based on Convention decisions for tackling biodiversity loss and report back on their implementation. To help accelerate action, in 2010 signatories to the Convention adopted a 20-point plan to help tackle species extinction and the loss of habitats around the world. Governments agreed to boost the area of protected land to 17%, and strive for marine protected areas covering 10% of oceans by 2020.
It is important to note that as part of the Convention signatories adopted the 2000 Cartagena Protocol for protecting biodiversity against potential risks posed by modified organisms. The Protocol clarifies that the use of products from new biotechnologies must be based on the precautionary principle and allow developing nations to balance public health against economic benefits. This means that countries can ban imports of genetically modified products if they consider that there is not enough scientific evidence on the safety of the products or require exporters to label shipments containing genetically modified commodities³.
UN Stockholm Convention for Persistent Organic Pollutants
The UN Stockholm Convention for Persistent Organic Pollutants was adopted in 2001 to regulate at international level the production and use of certain chemicals and pesticides that have been found to have a risk for human health and the environment.
Specifically the UN Stockholm Convention aims to phase out or regulate substances that once released into the environment⁴:
- remain intact for long periods of time (many years)
- become widely distributed throughout the environment
- accumulate in the tissue of living organisms including humans, and are found at higher concentrations at higher levels in the food chain
- are toxic to both humans and wildlife
Under the Stockholm Convention over 25 chemical substances have been regulated including insecticide endosulfan which has been used to control crop pests, tsetse flies and as a wood preservative⁵. According to the scientific review conducted by the Convention’s expert panel, endosulfan has been found to be persistent and it is toxic to humans. Exposure to endosulfan has been linked to congenital physical disorders, mental retardations and deaths in farm workers and villagers in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, usually known as the Aarhus Convention, establishes a number of rights of the public, both individuals and their associations, with regard to the environment.
The Convention provides for⁶:
- access to environmental information: this is the right of citizens and other organisations to receive environmental information such as the state of the environment and policies or measures, that are held by public authorities
- public participation in environmental decision-making: this is the right of stakeholders to participate in environmental decision-making and set up arrangements that allow this
- access to justice: this is the right to challenge public decisions that have been made without respecting the two rights above or environmental law