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MEAs and non-binding instruments
West Asian countries have ratified or acceded to some 64 international and regional environmental conventions and agreements (UNEP 1997). The extent to which countries are parties to the ten main global MEAs is shown in the table.
While ratification is at a fairly high level, compliance has been limited, mainly due to lack of funding. Awareness campaigns have not targeted decision-makers, stakeholders or the national figures who are the key to successful public participation. In addition, few pressure groups have been formed to influence business sectors.
While some countries are in the process of formulating by-laws relating to specific conventions, most rely on existing legal instruments for dealing with all major environmental issues. Economic instruments to improve the implementation of MEAs are still not well developed. Instruments such as incentives, taxes and charges, pricing strategies and other indirect measures are, however, starting to be applied to some MEAs.
The Montreal Protocol has received most attention, despite the 10-year grace period for compliance, because international interest is high and funding, capacity building and systems for monitoring and reporting are all available. Laws and decrees have been issued in several countries, including Bahrain, Jordan and Kuwait, to regulate the import, export and use of ozone-depleting substances and encourage the use of alternatives. Saudi Arabia is developing comprehensive by-laws on the implementation of the convention, and Syria is amending existing laws and regulations, and drafting new ones. Responsibility for implementation, follow-up and reporting lies mainly with existing national environmental bodies. However, special commissions or ozone units have been established within existing institutions, including ozone units in Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen.
The programmes in Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria have received financial support from the Multilateral Fund, and a number of projects are being assisted by other international organizations. In Syria, some aerosol manufacturers have substituted hydrocarbons for CFC-12. The refrigeration industry has started to use HCFC-134a instead of CFCs and has installed equipment to recover and re-use refrigerants (Government of Syria 1997).
CBD implementation is due to start at the end of 1999. However, there have been pilot projects in several countries. National committees have been set up in all countries to conduct national studies and formulate strategies and action plans. Most countries have prepared national studies on biodiversity and a number of protected sites have been declared. Studies have been completed in Jordan, Lebanon, Oman and Syria, and are under way in other states. Saudi Arabia's 6th development plan (1995-2000) includes measures to develop and preserve biodiversity. The most significant element of the Saudi strategy is the principle of addressing biodiversity in EIAs (ACSAD 1997). The League of Arab States called for a meeting of Arab Experts on Biodiversity in 1995. In addition, the Arab League Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ALECSO) adopted a comprehensive programme to encourage Arab States to participate fully in CBD activities.
Capacity building is needed to formulate national strategies and action plans for biodiversity. In a joint effort to promote the implementation of CBD, the GEF and its implementing agencies are providing technical assistance and have sponsored a regional workshop in Bahrain.
Responsibility for formulating strategies and implementing action plans to combat desertification lies mainly with agriculture ministries. Two important meetings were held after the adoption of the CCD in June 1994: the Bahrain regional meeting on implementation of the CCD in 1995, and the Sub-regional Meeting for Consultation on Implementation of the CCD in West Asia, held in Damascus in 1997. All West Asian countries participated. In addition, countries have formulated or are preparing national plans of action to combat desertification. UNESCWA and UNEP assisted Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen to prepare their national plans (UNEP/UNESCWA 1991, 1992a and b, and 1994). Implementation of Yemen's national strategy (1991-2010), which aims to halt desertification by the year 2010, has started but full implementation is dependent on international financial support (Faras 1996).
The Council of Arab Ministers Responsible for Environment (CAMRE) has a committee for combating desertification and increasing green areas in the Arab region. The committee is preparing a study on the state of desertification in the region with the help of the Arab Centre for Studies of Arid Zones and Drylands (ACSAD) and UNEP.
With the exception of the Montreal Protocol, the monitoring of compliance with MEAs is not well developed or enforced. In all cases, lack of resources is a major obstacle and capacity building is badly needed. As to the UNFCCC, the contribution of West Asian countries to climate change is minimal compared to other regions but increases in efficiency in power generation and industry, and a switch to natural gas (already effected in some locations), can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The 10 countries in the region that are signatories to the UNFCCC are preparing their national communications, with technical and financial support from United Nations agencies in capacity building. Most countries have prepared first drafts of their greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories. A few, including Jordan and Lebanon, are working on GHG mitigation analysis and turning to the more difficult task of analysing vulnerability and adaptation possibilities.
Public awareness of MEAs varies. The Montreal Protocol, CBD, CCD and UNFCCC have received considerable attention. The mass media have played a major role in enhancing public awareness by drawing attention to the seriousness of the environmental issues involved. Television and radio programmes on land degradation and desertification, loss of biodiversity and marine pollution have been broadcast regularly in all countries. These issues have also been covered at national and international events (such as biodiversity day, ozone day, world environment day and Arabian environment day). Newspapers and magazines in some countries allocate special pages for environmental affairs.
Governmental organizations and NGOs also help raise public awareness. The role of NGOs is widely recognized, especially in countries such as Lebanon where NGOs are well developed and vocal. However, in most countries the role of NGOs is still weak.
Overall, most countries have concentrated their efforts on developing institutions or expanding the mandates of existing institutions to implement MEAs. The focus is on priority studies, the preparation of strategies and the development of action plans and programmes, with little progress with implementation at the field level. Although it is too early to assess the impact of the conventions, public awareness is growing and positive attitudes towards most MEAs are developing rapidly.
The most important regional agreements are shown in the table on the right. Of these:
The level of response and compliance for regional MEAs is generally higher than for global MEAs. For example, national action plans have been developed by all eight signatories to the Kuwait Regional Convention and its protocols.
No new national institutions have been initiated to implement the conventions dealing with the marine environment, responsibility lying with the national institutions responsible for managing coastal areas or marine resources. Similarly, no new national laws have been issued in relation to these conventions, the protection of the marine and coastal zone being covered by existing national laws.
The contracting parties to the Barcelona Convention, Lebanon and Syria, have complied with the convention and are implementing its requirements through various ministries and existing legislative frameworks. The Blue Plan Regional Activity Centre has carried out a number of studies within the MAP framework, related to past, present and future interactions between the environment and development in the Mediterranean basin, taking account of the impacts of population growth, urbanization, industry, agriculture, trade, energy, tourism and transport. The Priority Action Programme Regional Activity Centre carries out pilot projects concentrating on integrated coastal zone management in Lebanon and Syria. These countries also participated in the recent UNEP/GEF initiative on land-based sources of pollution under MAP. This was a multi-faceted exercise covering the identification of hot spots and sensitive areas, a strategy and action plan and estimates of the costs of remedial action (Government of Lebanon 1995, Government of Syria 1997). The Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean is developing a regional information system for preparedness and response to accidental pollution.
Under a Euro-Mediterranean initiative, the Specially Protected Areas Regional Activity Centre, in collaboration with the contracting parties, has identified 123 areas in the Mediterranean area in need of special protection. Capacity-building for national institutions is also planned. Revision of the Barcelona Convention in 1995 led to the development in 1997 of a plan to control and eliminate most land-based pollutants by 2025.
After almost 15 years, a Strategic Action Plan developed by PERSGA for the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden has been approved for funding by GEF for US$19 million (Al-Sambouk 1998).
The Regional Organization for the Protection of the Marine Environment (ROPME), with a head office in Kuwait, was established in 1979 by the parties to the Kuwait Regional Sea Convention to serve as its Secretariat (under the supervision of UNEP). It has a network of collaborating focal points in all eight member countries. A Marine Emergency Mutual Aid Centre was established in Bahrain in 1982 to assist ROPME in matters related to information, capacity building, reporting and cooperation with other organizations. A major survey on critical marine habitats, initiated by ROPME and carried out by the member states, identified all sensitive marine habitats in the region.
Although most countries are fulfilling their commitments as signatories, it is difficult to evaluate the impacts of regional MEAs on the protection of the environment. These depend on the agreement itself, the level of economic development of the country and the barriers to implementation in each sub-region and between and within countries. Limited access to adequate information also makes assessment of the impact of the MEAs difficult. In many cases, it is too early to identify impacts as countries are still at the stage of building up institutional and technical capacities and have barely started on implementation.
Countries have made substantial joint efforts at the regional level to protect natural resources and the environment. Many regional institutions (see table) contribute to this task. Most cover the whole of the Arab Region but three relate specially to parts of West Asia (ROPME, PERSGA and METAP). The transboundary nature of environmental problems means that they also cover countries outside the region. Some (such as AOAD, ALECSO, AIDMO and ISECSO) do not deal specifically with environmental issues but address them insofar as they relate to their areas of concern (agriculture, industry, education and science). Even ACSAD covers concerns other than purely environmental ones in its studies of arid zones and drylands.
The organizations that are more sharply focused on environmental issues are CAMRE, JCEDAR and CEDARE. CAMRE is concerned mainly with policy issues at the national and regional levels. Only JCEDAR and CEDARE specifically address sustainable development and the interactions of the environment and development. However, even some of the more general organizations can make quite specific contributions to the environment: a recent example is the decision taken during the GCC summit held in Kuwait in December 1997 to adopt a by-law to protect and develop wildlife in the GCC countries. An example of the successful protection of an endangered species is given in the box below.
In addition, many UN organizations and their regional offices operate in the region. They help raise funds for technical assistance and support environmental management programmes, environmental policies and institutional capacity building.
The policy aim of most governments is to limit further environmental degradation and achieve sustainable use of environmental resources. West Asian countries have made substantial efforts to integrate environmental aspects into their development schemes and strategies. Most have formulated national environmental action plans (NEAPs), which include identification and prioritization of key issues, and have set targets and timetables for implementation. For example, Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Syria have initiated coastal management programmes, and WHO has prepared a plan of action in the Eastern Mediterranean Region in which priorities have been set for different countries with regard to the environment and related health problems (WHO/EMRO 1997). However, in most cases, NEAPs are mainly checklists of desirable actions, based on rather limited and doubtful information. They are generally short on reliable cost estimates, time schedules, division of responsibilities for implementation, and identification of sources of funding.
Water being a priority in the region, most countries have formulated national strategies but much more needs to be done (see box). For example, Bahrain's water strategy was initiated in the early 1970s. However, because it failed to reduce dependence on the country's fast-dwindling groundwater reserves, a new national water management strategy was endorsed to cover the period 1990 to 2010. The new strategy includes increasing production of desalinated water, a leak detection/reduction and system renewal programme, and reform of the agricultural sector by expanding the use of treated wastewater for irrigation. Similarly, the national water strategy in Lebanon seeks to reduce water losses through the use of more modern irrigation techniques, and promote methods for wastewater treatment and reuse for irrigation. The national water strategy in Saudi Arabia was formulated in the 1980s and covers national water policy up to the year 2020. Like the programmes in Bahrain and Lebanon, the Saudi strategy concentrates on the modernization of irrigation techniques and better use of treated wastewater. In addition, the Saudi plan includes the establishment of dams for surface water conservation and groundwater recharge, protection of groundwater resources from deterioration, capacity building and public awareness.
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