United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Global  Environment Outlook-1 - The Web version

Chapter 3: Policy Responses and Directions

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Current Changes in Approaches to Environmental Policy

Global Frameworks and Conventions and National Policy Initiatives

Since the 1972 Stockholm Conference, the number and scope of international environmental policy responses have increased significantly. Initially, the established global strategic planning frameworks usually had a sectoral nature. Examples of this include the United Nations Plan of Action to Combat Desertification (1977), the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (1979), the World Conservation Strategy (1980), the World Soil Policy (1982), and the Tropical Forest Action Plan (1984). Under these global programmatic frameworks, national action plans, strategies, and policies were prepared.

Box 3.1.

Some Ongoing International Negotiation Processes

  • The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) has made good progress on the development of an Internationally Legally Binding Instrument for the Application of Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. The final INC and Diplomatic Conference is expected to be held in Rotterdam in 1997.
  • The Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety has developed recommendations on international action on persistent organic pollutants for consideration by the 1997 sessions of the UNEP Governing Council and the World Health Assembly.
  • An Open-Ended Ad-Hoc Working Group on Biosafety is negotiating a biosafety protocol under the Convention on Biological Diversity to be concluded in 1998.
  • A 3rd Ministerial Round Table meeting in Geneva in October 1996 made a clear step ahead in developing supportive environment and trade policies, focusing on multilateral environmental agreements, market access, and trade liberalization.
  • Institutional arrangements are under way for implementation of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities.
  • During the World Food Summit in Rome in November 1996, a Plan of Action was adopted by Heads of States and Governments stipulating concrete, practical actions to cut the number of people suffering from hunger in half by 2030.
  • An open-ended ad hoc Intergovernmental Panel on Forests was established by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) to enhance the political debate on forests while focusing on priority issues. Final conclusions and forest policy recommendations will be submitted to the CSD at its fifth session in April 1997.

For details on existing conventions and their amendments and protocols, see the references listed below.


Bergesen, H.O., and G. Parmann (eds.). 1994. Green Globe Yearbook of International Co-operation on Environment and Development. The Fridtjof Nansen Institute. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

CIESIN. 1996. Environmental Treaties and Resource Indicators (ENTRI) [on line]. Consortium for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). University Center, Michigan. http://sedac.ciesin.org/entri/

UNEP. 1993. Register of International Treaties and Other Agreements in the Field of the Environment. United Nations Environment Programme. Nairobi.

At the same time, multilateral agreements and conventions were negotiated, resulting in some 200 legal instruments that target regional and global action to protect the environment. Some of the new, currently negotiated legal instruments and action programmes are detailed in Box 3.1. Several of the global conventions call for national inventories, action programmes and reporting mechanisms, such as climate change country studies, biodiversity country studies on sources and sinks of greenhouse gases, and country programmes for the phaseout of ozone-depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol. Countries have adopted standards, limits, rules, and regulations to implement these international agreements at the national level. The main policy instruments used by Governments to translate international agreements into concrete action are based on command-and-control principles.

Although initial co-ordination of such national-level efforts may not have been very good, today national implementation of global programmes is better co-ordinated and often manifested in single overall environment action plans. The nature of national instruments has changed from a narrowly defined sectoral focus to a more comprehensive and anticipatory approach to protecting ecosystems. Increasingly, socio-economic factors are taken into consideration. Many countries have established SOE reporting programmes, which attempt to report on the status and trends of various sectors in an integrated way. As part of the strategic planning processes and reporting programmes, national institutions (Ministries, Secretariats, Departments, Committees, Commissions, and so on), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), advocacy groups, and private-sector institutions have been established or strengthened to deal specifically with environmental issues.

In addition, national legislation has been developed at a rapid pace in the past decades. Governments of many countries, for example, undertook significant amendments to existing natural resources legislation in order to deal with environmental problems arising from overexploitation by commercial and industrial sectors. The evolution of environmental legislation, especially in developing countries, can be divided into two distinct periods (UNEP, 1996c). In the pre-Stockholm era, largely characterized by "use-oriented" natural resource laws and legislation to address environmental pollution as a local problem, legislation was primarily concerned with the allocation and exploitation of natural resources. The post-Stockholm period is characterized by the emergence of "resource-oriented" legislation and, ultimately, system-oriented and integrated legal regimes aimed at long-term management and more sustainable use of natural resources. In industrial countries, some of these already existed before Stockholm. Wildlife legislation, for instance, gradually incorporated the concept of maintenance of a safe minimum stock through protection of vulnerable species.

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