Now that you have completed this study session, you can assess how well you have achieved its Learning Outcomes by answering these questions.
What distinguishes the different types of international agreements developed by the United Nations?
Conventions and treaties are formal agreements. They are intended to create legal rights and duties but this only happens once member states sign up to and ratify these agreements. Conventions are broad in scope and open for participation by a large number of states.
Declarations usually describe aspirations rather than binding obligations. Protocols are supplementary to conventions or treaties and add details or additional rights and obligations.
Why are global environmental policies and international agreements needed? In what ways can the activities of one country affect others?
Our global environment is shared. Interconnections through air, water and human activities mean that one group of people affects and is affected by another group, with effects on the environment that cross national boundaries. We therefore need policies and agreements that enable us to share resources fairly and limit potentially harmful effects of human activities.
Rivers may flow through adjoining countries and the activities in the upstream country can affect the downstream country. This could be pollution in the water or change in volume resulting from water abstraction. You may also have mentioned groundwater; aquifers can extend underneath several countries and be altered by groundwater pollution and over-extraction. Air pollution can spread long distances by the action of wind. Emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere will contribute to global climate change affecting all countries.
It is often said that environmental threats don’t respect borders. Explain what this means, giving an example and mentioning an international agreement that aims to tackle such a threat.
Environmental threats are of international importance because environmental pollution can cross national borders, so cannot be addressed just from one country. An example of a global threat is climate change – greenhouse gases need to be controlled in all countries to tackle the issue of climate change. Both the UN Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol aim to tackle climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
What is hazardous waste and which conventions address its transboundary movement and disposal?
Hazardous waste is harmful to people and the environment. It may contain infectious agents; be explosive or cancer-producing; affect genetics; cause fire hazards; be toxic and/or corrosive. The Basel Convention encouraged regional agreements on hazardous wastes. The Bamako Convention bans the import of hazardous wastes into Africa, aims to control transboundary movement of these wastes within the continent, and prohibits incineration and dumping in oceans and inland waters.
What is the purpose of Environmental Impact Assessment?
The purpose of Environmental Impact Assessment, or EIA, is to systematically evaluate potential environmental impacts and issues associated with a given development project. Proposals for actions that will prevent or mitigate the potential impacts can then be prepared.
Who has responsibility for monitoring implementation of conventions and protocols?
Each UN Convention has a Secretariat at the UN which monitors the implementation of agreed actions and disseminates the performance of each convention to signing countries. A signing country is expected to provide the mechanisms or framework of implementation, including monitoring when designing an act or regulation in the national laws to meet the requirements of the agreed convention.