Just deserts

GREEN GLOBE YEARBOOK 1995 The Fridtjof Nansen Institute

By Ravi Sharma
Published: Saturday 30 September 1995

International law is heading rapidly towards protecting the environment; it will gradually replace the initiative taken by national governments to base such laws on national public opinion. Between 1946, when the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling was first adopted, and 1994, when the International Convention to Combat Desertification was signed, 48 regional and global legal instruments have come into operation, about half of them in the past decade.

India alone has ratified 18 of them, with 5 pending ratification by the Union Cabinet. These agreements range from protecting the atmosphere, regulating the movement of hazardous material, protecting the marine environment, and conserving biological and other land-based water resources to ensuring nuclear safety.

The monitoring and facilitation of these agreements is done by 22 inter-governmental organisations with 30 international non-governmental organisations playing a watchdog role. All this is outlined in the Green Globe Yearbook 1995, which records the details of the international agreements related to environment and development.

While it is decent and broadbased reference repository for anybody interested in global environmental issues, it blanks out issues like political backgrounds or the sociological impact of such agreements. Whose public opinion is it that has pushed governments to develop these laws? Certainly not developing countries. Only in a very few developing countries would public opinion be muscular enough to push governments into initiating international law on preserving biological diversity or atmosphere or marine resources.

This does not mean that developing country populations are less environment-conscious than those of the developed nations. They may, however, push for international agreements to protect their space for fishing, receive honest value for their indigenous biological knowledge, or restrict the overconsuming countries from accessing developing country resources. But the current agreements, while trying to govern the management of the environment, are not quite aggressive enough to punish the countries that actually did the environment in. Nor do these agreements reward the nations that did not overuse these resources. The agreements try to govern without changing the status quo, tilting these agreements against the developing world nations, which have begun to demand their fair share of the resources now.

The book does not even mention details of how such agreements were reached -- without doubt an intriguing story of how a few industrialised countries have been coercing the rest of the world to become part of an international law that fails to adhere to the "polluter pays" principle.

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