The U.N. Environment Assembly (UNEA), a new forum of all nations
including environment ministers, business leaders and civil society,
will meet in Nairobi from June 23-27 to work on ways to promote
greener economic growth.
That drive includes giving environmental laws more teeth.
"We often have environmental legislation that is well intentioned
but is not effective," Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment
Programme which will host the talks, told Reuters in a telephone
Many countries sign up for environmental treaties but are often slow
to ratify and fail to enforce them in domestic laws, on issues
ranging from protecting animals and plants from extinction to
outlawing dangerous chemicals or regulating hazardous waste.
"Simply signing a commitment is one step, putting the finance, the
technology, the laws in place are critical ingredients," he said.
The Nairobi talks will include a meeting of chief justices,
attorneys general and other legal experts. They will seek ways to
improve cooperation, speed up ratification of treaties and try to
find models for domestic legislation.
"Illegal activities harming the environment are fast evolving and
growing in sophistication," UNEP said in a statement. There was
insufficient international coordination to catch crime gangs, from
illegal fishing to loggers.
Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International
Environmental Law in Washington, said "there are numerous pitfalls"
for environmental treaties.
One big drawback is that developed nations often fail to provide
promised finance to help poor nations fight everything from toxic
waste to illegal logging, he said.
"Our experience has shown again and again that this financial
support never comes through," he said.
And treaties face big hurdles even after they are negotiated. Last
year, for instance, nations agreed a new convention to limit
mercury, a heavy metal that can damage the human nervous system and
cause liver damage and memory loss.
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So far the United States is the only nation to have ratified the
pact, which needs 50 ratifications to enter into force.
About 100 other nations including China and most industrialised
states have signed - a declaration of intent to formally ratify the
pact. "We anticipate to have the minimum 50 ratifications in two and
a half years," Steiner said. "That would be a very fast process."
Successes have included conventions such as the 1987 Montreal
Protocol for protecting the ozone layer. Others have struggled, such
as the 1997 Kyoto Protocol for curbing greenhouse gas emissions
which only entered into force in 2005.
The United Nations will also issue a report on ways to crack down on
wildlife crime. Steiner said there was an "enormous increase" in
illicit trade, from ivory to timber, with increased links to
international crime syndicates and drug cartels.
The UNEA, a forum agreed at an Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in
2012, marks a shift from a former system in which only 58 nations
met yearly to discuss environmental problems.
"It is a watershed," Steiner said.
(Reporting by Alister Doyle; Editing by Sophie Hares)
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