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United States General Accounting Office: 


Before the Committee on Environment and Public Works and the Committee 
on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected on Wednesday: 
July 24, 2002, at 10:30 am: 

International Environment: 

U.S. Actions to Fulfill Commitments Under Five Key Agreements: 

Statement for the Record by John B. Stephenson: 
Director, Natural Resources and Environment: 


Messrs. Chairmen and Members of the Committees: 

I am pleased to have the opportunity to comment on the results of work 
we performed for you on the United States’ actions to fulfill its 
commitments under five international environmental agreements. These 
agreements, which were identified by your offices, relate to climate 
change (Framework Convention), desertification (Desertification 
Convention), the earth’s ozone layer (Montreal Protocol), endangered 
species (CITES), and North American environmental cooperation (North 
American Agreement). 

Because the causes and consequences of climate change and other 
environmental problems do not respect national boundaries, the United 
States and other nations have entered into numerous international 
environmental agreements to address such problems. These agreements 
typically provide that the parties will undertake various actions. Some 
provisions are specific and measurable (such as having the parties
establish domestic programs to, for example, reduce greenhouse gas 
emissions, or having them report periodically on their progress), while 
others are general and difficult to measure (such as having the parties 
coordinate with each other). 

Today, as requested, I will discuss three issues concerning 
international environmental agreements: (1) the extent of U.S. actions 
to fulfill specific commitments under the five agreements, (2) the 
processes and methods federal agencies use to track these actions, and 
(3) the results of independent evaluations of these actions. 

In summary, our work shows the following: 

* The United States is generally taking action to meet its specific 
commitments under the five agreements. For example, it established 
domestic programs, as required by three of the agreements. However, the 
United States fell short of meeting a commitment or pledge in two 
areas. First, in the area of providing financial assistance to other 
nations, the United States provided over $1.4 billion in such 
assistance, but it provided less than it pledged for the Framework 
Convention (25 percent) and the Montreal Protocol (6 percent). Second, 
in the area of reporting, while the United States submitted nearly all 
of the 21 reports that it agreed to submit from 1997 through mid-2002, 
about half of these reports were submitted from 2 to 8 months late, and 
2 were never submitted. Even though many U.S. reports were late, we 
determined that other parties’ reports were also often late and that, 
for the most part, the U.S.’s tardiness had no significant effect. 

* Agencies generally use informal means, such as meetings and informal
communications, to track their actions to fulfill commitments under the 
five agreements. According to officials at the Department of State and 
at other responsible agencies, such informal means are sufficient and 
there is no need to establish formal tracking systems. We found no 
instance where the United States lost track of a commitment because it 
lacked a formal system. 

* We found few studies that evaluated the effectiveness of U.S. 
actions. These few studies generally concluded that the actions 
examined had positive effects. For example, four studies of 
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) activities pursuant to the 
Framework Convention concluded that they helped to reduce greenhouse gas


Just as nations have established international agreements to deal with 
trade, weapons, and other issues, the United States and other nations 
have joined together to respond to transboundary environmental 
problems. Like other international agreements, environmental agreements 
are legal instruments that are negotiated, signed, and adopted by two 
or more countries. Developing such agreements involves achieving 
voluntary commitments among nations with various levels of industrial 
development, technical capabilities, resources, and concerns about 
particular environmental problems. Worldwide, hundreds of international 
legal instruments are aimed at environmental protection. According to a 
Department of State official, the department’s Bureau of Oceans and 
International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, which is primarily
responsible for environmental and related matters, is involved in more 
than 100 bilateral and multilateral agreements in which the United 
States is a party or has an interest. 

International agreements are intended to accomplish broad goals—such as 
controlling the trade in certain endangered or at-risk species and 
eliminating the production of certain ozone-depleting chemicals—but 
they do not always provide that the parties must achieve specific 
objectives within certain time frames. Furthermore, agreements do not
always include mechanisms for monitoring whether the parties are 
fulfilling their commitments or for enforcing compliance. [Footnote 1] 
To some extent, this arrangement reflects the belief that strict 
compliance and enforcement mechanisms would discourage nations from 
participating in a treaty. Therefore, the extent of a nation’s 
compliance with international agreements generally depends on peer or 
public pressure. 

The five agreements we reviewed are summarized below, in chronological 

* The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild 
Flora and Fauna (CITES), which is intended to control the international 
trade in specified types of plants and animals (ratified by the United 
States in 1974); 

* The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer 
(Montreal Protocol), which is intended to reduce the production and 
import of certain chemicals that deplete the earth’s stratospheric 
ozone layer (ratified in 1988); 

* The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Framework
Convention), the objective of which is to stabilize concentrations of 
carbon dioxide and certain other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at 
a level that would prevent dangerous human interference with the 
climate system (ratified in 1992); 

* The North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (North 
American Agreement), which is intended to establish a framework for 
better protecting the continent’s environment through cooperation and 
enforcement of national laws (entered into force in 1994); and; 

* The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Those 
Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, 
Particularly in Africa (Desertification Convention), which is intended 
to mitigate desertification and drought through improved land use 
practices, increased local participation in land use planning, and 
mobilization and coordination of funding assistance (ratified in

Like many other multilateral treaties, each of these five agreements 
created an institution to administer the agreement. These institutions 
are often called secretariats. Under CITES and the North American 
Agreement, these institutions are independent entities; under the other 
three agreements, the institutions are United Nations entities. These
institutions are responsible for such tasks as compiling reports based 
on submissions from the parties, administering requests for technical 
assistance, and arranging the logistics for meetings of the parties. 

Within the U.S. government, the Department of State is the lead agency 
for participating in the Framework Convention and Montreal Protocol. In 
the former case, the Department of Energy and EPA are the key 
implementing agencies domestically; in the latter case, it is EPA. The 
Department of the Interior is the key implementing agency domestically 
under CITES, and EPA is the key implementing agency for the North 
American Agreement. Although no agency has been assigned the lead 
responsibility for the Desertification Convention, the Agency for 
International Development provides the majority of the funding and 
other assistance to nations in support of the Convention; the 
Department of State also plays a significant role. 

We discussed the facts included in this statement with the Director, 
Office of Global Change, and other Department of State officials, as 
well as officials from the Agency for International Development, the 
Departments of the Interior and Treasury, and the Environmental 
Protection Agency. They generally agreed with the information presented 
and they provided clarifications, which we included where appropriate. 
We performed our work between November 2001 and July 2002 in accordance 
with generally accepted government auditing standards. 

The United States Is Taking Many Actions to Fulfill Its Commitments, 
but Has Not Provided All the Funds It Pledged: 

The United States is, in general, taking actions to fulfill the 
specific provisions of the five selected agreements. We identified 
three types of provisions—establishing domestic programs, providing 
financial assistance to other nations, and reporting— that were found 
in two or more agreements (cross-cutting provisions), as well as 
agreement-specific provisions. 

Establishing Domestic Programs: 

Three of the five agreements required the United States to establish 
new domestic programs to help fulfill its commitments —CITES, the 
Framework Convention, and the Montreal Protocol. The Desertification 
Convention and the North American Agreement required no new programs. 
Under CITES, for example, the Department of the Interior’s Fish and 
Wildlife Service created a permit program to review the import, export, 
and reexport of parts and products of species listed as threatened with 
extinction. It issues about 4,500 such permits annually. Additionally, 
in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant 
Health Inspection Service and Treasury’s Customs Service, the Fish and 
Wildlife Service monitors U.S. ports for illegal shipments of listed
species’ parts and products. 

Under the Framework Convention, the United States has developed a wide 
array of domestic programs directly related to reducing greenhouse gas 
emissions. According to a July 2002 report by the Office of Management 
and Budget, the United States is spending an estimated $1.2 billion for 
such programs in fiscal year 2002. [Footnote 2] This amount primarily 
funds Department of Energy and EPA efforts to research, develop, and 
deploy renewable energy technologies and energy-efficient products that 
help reduce the use of fossil fuels, as well as U.S. greenhouse gas 

Under the Montreal Protocol, EPA promulgated regulations—initially in 
1988 and later revised—for the 16 companies that produced or imported 
certain ozone-depleting substances. It established a schedule for them 
to phase out their production and net import of these substances, 
granting them an initial allowance to produce or import such substances 
and reducing the allowance gradually. In addition, EPA established 
programs to ensure that certain substances used in refrigerators and 
halon fire extinguishers were properly recycled and to develop safe and 
effective alternatives to ozone-depleting substances. As of March 2002, 
through the efforts of EPA and other federal agencies, 114 individuals 
had been convicted of illegal schemes to import ozone-depleting 
substances and $67 million in fines and restitution had been imposed. 

Providing Financial Assistance to Other Nations: 

The United States pledged to provide financial assistance to other 
nations under three of the five agreements. In two cases—the Framework 
Convention and the Montreal Protocol—the United States pledged to 
provide specific amounts of funds, and in both cases it provided less 
than it pledged. In the third case—the Desertification Convention—it 
did not pledge to provide a specific amount but did provide funds. In 
total, the United States provided more than $1.4 billion under these 
three agreements. 

Under the Framework Convention, the United States committed to provide 
an unspecified amount of funds. Separately, the United States later 
pledged to provide specific amounts to the Global Environment Facility, 
which is the financial mechanism for the Framework Convention. 
[Footnote 3] The facility was established to help developing countries 
address climate change and other environmental problems. The United 
States pledged to provide $860 million to the facility for fiscal years 
1995 through 2002. However, through 2002, the Congress had appropriated 
$649 million, or $211 million (25 percent) less than the amount 
pledged. [Footnote 4] This shortfall resulted because, in some years,
the Congress did not appropriate enough money to meet the pledge. 

In addition to providing funds to developing countries through the 
facility, the United States supports developing and other countries’ 
efforts to address climate change through the Agency for International 
Development. In fiscal year 2002, the agency is providing an estimated 
$167 million to promote development that minimizes the growth in 
greenhouse gas emissions and reduces vulnerability to climate change. 

Under the Montreal Protocol, the United States pledged to provide 
$363.6 million between 1991 and 2001 for technical assistance and 
investment projects aimed at phasing out ozone-depleting chemicals in 
developing nations. However, it provided $21.7 million (6 percent) less 
than its pledge during that period. According to EPA officials, the 
shortfall occurred for several reasons. The United States withheld more 
than half the shortfall amount ($11.5 million) because of a prohibition 
on U.S. foreign assistance to Iraq, North Korea, and certain other 
nations. [Footnote 5] In addition, in some years the Congress 
appropriated less than the amount requested or imposed an across-the-
board rescission to EPA’s appropriation accounts. 

Finally, under the Desertification Convention, the United States 
committed to provide an unspecified level of financial assistance to 
developing countries. When the convention was ratified in 2000, the 
United States was already providing financial assistance to countries 
experiencing desertification and drought. [Footnote 6] In fiscal year 
2001, the first year of U.S. participation, the Agency for 
International Development provided $93.8 million in assistance to other 
nations, including $53.8 million to African countries, the Convention's
primary focus. These amounts include bilateral and multilateral 
assistance designed to mitigate desertification and drought by 
improving the capacity of communities and local institutions to use new 
technologies and tools to better manage agricultural lands and natural 
resource areas. 


Although we found that the United States did not promptly submit nearly 
half the reports it had agreed to submit, many other parties were also 
late in submitting their reports. Moreover, we generally found that 
this tardiness had no significant effect on the agreements’ 
secretariats or on other parties. 

From the beginning of 1997 to the present, the United States agreed to 
submit 21 reports on implementation and related issues for the 5 
agreements: CITES, 7 (5 annual and 2 biennial); the Desertification 
Convention, 1; the Framework Convention, 2; the Montreal Protocol, 5; 
and the North American Agreement, 6. Of these 21 reports, 8 were 
submitted between 2 and 8 months late, 1 is expected to be submitted 
soon and will be at least 3 months late, and 2 were never submitted. 

The United States has been late in submitting at least one report 
related to four of the five agreements, as shown in table 1. 

Table 1. Number of Reports for Each Agreement, by Timeliness: 

Agreement: CITES; 
Submitted on time or granted an extension: 5; 
Submitted late or overdue: [Empty]; 
Never submitted: 2; 
Total: 7. 

Agreement: Desertification Convention; 
Submitted on time or granted an extension: [Empty]; 
Submitted late or overdue: 1; 
Never submitted: [Empty]; 
Total: 1. 

Agreement: Framework Convention; 
Submitted on time or granted an extension: [Empty]; 
Submitted late or overdue: 2; 
Never submitted: [Empty]; 
Total: 2. 

Agreement: Montreal Protocol; 
Submitted on time or granted an extension: 4; 
Submitted late or overdue: 1; 
Never submitted: [Empty]; 
Total: 5. 

Agreement: North American Agreement; 
Submitted on time or granted an extension: 1; 
Submitted late or overdue: 5; 
Never submitted: [Empty]; 
Total: 6. 

Agreement: Total; 
Submitted on time or granted an extension: 10; 
Submitted late or overdue: 9; 
Never submitted: 2; 
Total: 21. 

For example, under the Framework Convention, both reports were 
submitted late—the first by 3 months and the second by 6 months. 
Similarly, under the North American Agreement, four of the six reports 
were from 3 to 8 months late and one is overdue. Although the agreement 
itself does not require the United States to provide such reports,
the parties decided to submit country reports in order to provide the 
secretariat with useful information. 

Finally, the United States has not submitted two biennial reports on 
its implementation of CITES. According to a CITES secretariat official, 
most other parties also have not submitted them either. According to 
Fish and Wildlife Service officials, the United States has submitted 
annual statistical reports and other periodic reports to the 
secretariat on certain activities under CITES, which provide much of 
the information that would have been included in the biennial reports. 

According to agency officials, in most cases, the United States’ 
tardiness had no significant effect on the agreements’ secretariats or 
other parties. However, the Secretary of the North American Agreement’s 
governing council said that the late submission of reports by the 
United States and other parties delayed the publication of the 
secretariat’s reports. According to the secretariat’s director of 
programs, these reports were less useful because the information was 
occasionally old. 

Generally, the reports contained the information required under the 
respective agreements. For example, the Framework Convention reports 
are to include, among other things, detailed information on its 
policies and measures to mitigate climate change and its projected 
human-caused emissions. We found that both reports included this 
information. The Convention also states that each party shall report on 
these two matters “with the aim of returning individually or jointly to 
their 1990 levels these anthropogenic [human-caused] emissions of 
carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.” The 1997 report addressed 
this issue by stating, “the measures listed in this report are not 
expected to reduce U.S. emissions below 1990 levels by the year 2000.” 
The 2002 report did not address this issue. [Footnote 7] According to 
data from the Energy Information Administration, U.S. emissions in 2000 
were about 14 percent above the 1990 level. 

In addition to these cross-cutting provisions, some of the agreements 
include unique commitments. We found that the United States is 
generally acting to fulfill such commitments. For example: 

* Under the Montreal Protocol, the United States committed to achieving 
specific goals and timetables. The Protocol established a series of 
deadlines—from 1989 through 2030—for phasing out the production and 
import of dozens of chemicals that deplete the ozone layer. According 
to EPA data, the United States virtually eliminated the production and 
import of nearly all of these chemicals by the end of 1995. [Footnote 
8] Under the Framework Convention, the United States did not commit to 
achieving a specific goal but did commit to reporting “with the aim” of 
reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the 1990 level. The other three 
agreements do not specify measurable goals. 

* Under the Desertification Convention, parties are required to submit 
nominations to the secretariat for inclusion on a roster of independent 
experts in disciplines relevant to combating desertification and 
mitigating the effects of drought. Maintained by the secretariat, the 
roster is used as a central source of experts for technical assistance
and other purposes. The United States established a Web site to receive 
applications for membership on the roster. Applications are received by 
the Department of State, subjected to an interagency review process, 
and then transmitted to the secretariat. 

* Under the Framework Convention, the United States committed to 
collect data on emissions of certain greenhouse gases. EPA regularly 
collects and publishes these data. 

Agencies Generally Use Informal Means to Track Actions: 

Although the United States has made many commitments under these five 
agreements and taken numerous actions to fulfill these commitments, we 
did not identify any policy that would require government officials to 
formally track all such commitments and actions. Officials at the 
Department of State and other agencies told us that they generally use 
informal means to track U.S. actions to fulfill its many commitments.
Officials said their interagency coordination begins while an agreement 
is being negotiated and continues after ratification because the 
agencies frequently interact while preparing for periodic meetings of 
the parties. Actions taken under all five agreements are tracked mainly 
through periodic meetings of officials from the various implementing
agencies and other communications among these officials. The officials 
noted that they may also consider the views of interest groups and 
other parties to these agreements. 

Officials expressed a preference for informally tracking U.S. actions 
for three reasons. First, the current system is effective in helping to 
ensure that the United States acts to meet its commitments. They added 
that they were unaware of any instance in which the United States had 
failed to meet a commitment because it lacked a formal tracking system, 
and we did not find any such instance. Second, developing and 
maintaining a formal system—such as (1) compiling a comprehensive 
database that captures information on all commitments and actions to 
fulfill those commitments or (2) requiring periodic progress reports on 
these matters—would involve substantial staff and other costs; these 
costs would likely exceed the potential benefits of having such a 

Finally, most provisions in these international agreements are fairly 
broad and—even where the provisions are specific—there are generally 
few penalties for a nation’s failure to fulfill a commitment. Although 
two of the five agreements include mechanisms to enforce compliance, 
these mechanisms are rarely used. Under CITES, parties can disallow 
imports of CITES-listed species parts and products from countries that 
are not properly implementing CITES, thus restricting or preventing 
trade in such items. Agency officials told us that these sanctions have 
never been applied against the United States. Under the North American 
Agreement, monetary penalties may be levied if a party is found to have 
a persistent pattern of failing to effectively enforce its 
environmental laws; however, according to the secretariat’s director of 
programs, these sanctions have never been applied. 

In addition to these informal tracking means, under the North American 
Agreement, the United States (like the other parties) annually compiles 
a detailed list of actions related to the agreement’s provisions. 
According to an EPA official, the detailed reporting format (which 
lists actions provision by provision) was established in the early 
years of the agreement to make the parties’ actions transparent and 
accessible to each other and to the general public. 

The Few Available Program Evaluations Deemed U.S. Actions Effective: 

Despite an extensive search, we found few evaluations of the 
effectiveness of U.S. actions to meet its commitments under the five 
agreements. To identify such studies, we conducted a search of online 
information retrieval systems and contacted selected secretariats. We 
did not independently verify the methods used in these studies. The few 
studies we identified generally concluded that the actions examined had 
had positive effects. 

We found two evaluations for CITES, four for the Framework Convention, 
three for the Montreal Protocol, and none for the other two agreements. 

* The two CITES studies, both by academicians, concluded that the 
United States has generally fulfilled its obligations by establishing a 
sophisticated program for implementing CITES. Nevertheless, according 
to one study, the United States has not been able to prevent all 
illegal trade in endangered and at-risk species. [Footnote 9] 

* The four Framework Convention studies, performed primarily by EPA 
contractors, concluded that EPA’s programs helped reduce greenhouse gas 
emissions by spurring the introduction of energy-efficient lighting 
technology and encouraging producers to include energy-efficiency 
features in computers and other office equipment. [Footnote 10] 

* The three Montreal Protocol studies presented varying results. Two 
studies—one issued in 1998 by EPA’s Office of Inspector General and the 
other published in the same year by two academicians—found that 
production bans under U.S. law led to decreases in ozone-depleting 
chemicals. [Footnote 11] The third study, issued in 2000 by the Ozone 
Secretariat of the United Nations Environment Program, noted the growth 
of illegal trade in ozone-depleting substances in the United States. 
[Footnote 12] The report also noted that U.S. authorities responded to 
such trade by arresting and sentencing many individuals on counts of 
smuggling the substances. 

Contacts and Acknowledgments: 

For further information, please contact John B. Stephenson at (202) 512-
3841. Individuals making key contributions to this testimony included 
Chase M. Huntley, Karen Keegan, David Marwick, Carol Herrnstadt 
Shulman, and Daniel J. Semick. 

[End of testimony] 


[1] U.S. General Accounting Office, International Environment: 
Literature on the Effectiveness of International Environmental 
Agreements, GAO/RCED-99-148 (Washington, D.C.: May 1999). 

[2] U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Federal Climate Change 
Expenditures: Report to Congress (Washington, D.C.: July 9, 2002). 

[3] The facility was established on a pilot basis in 1991 and was 
restructured in 1994. It is funded by the United States and other 
countries, and its projects are implemented and overseen by the United 
Nations Development Program, United Nations Environmental Program, and 
World Bank. 

[4] This includes $30 million appropriated in fiscal year 1994 that was 
applied to fiscal year 1995. 

[5] Federal law prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance to 
international organizations for programs in Burma, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, 
Libya, North Korea, and Syria, as well as to the Palestine Liberation 
Organization. 22 U.S.C. §2227(a)(2000). The United States withheld the 
share of its funds that would have gone to those entities. 

[6] Furthermore, the President's letter transmitting the agreement to 
the Senate stated that the United States’ obligations under the 
convention would be met under existing law and ongoing assistance 

[7] According to a Department of State official, the 2002 report did 
not address this issue because the “aim” set out in the convention 
refers only to the year 2000 and does not address emissions levels in 
later years. 

[8] The use of two other chemicals is to be eliminated in future 
years—by 2005, in the one case, and 2030, in the other case. 

[9] Michael J. Glennon and Alison L. Stewart, “The United States: 
Taking Environmental Treaties Seriously,” and Harold K. Jacobson and 
Edith Brown Weiss, “Assessing the Record and Designing Strategies to 
Engage Countries,” in Engaging Countries: Strengthening Compliance with 
International Environmental Accords, edited by Edith Brown Weiss and 
Harold K. Jacobson (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1998). 

[10] Richard Duke and Daniel M. Kammen, “The Economics of Energy Market 
Transformation Programs,” The Energy Journal, Vol. 20, No. 4 (1999); 
Marvin J. Horowitz, “Economic Indicators of Market Transformation: 
Energy Efficient Lighting and EPA’s Green Lights,” The Energy Journal, 
Vol. 22, No. 4 (2001); Gartner Consulting, Energy Star Consumer 
Campaign and Product Labeling, Marketing, and Communications: 
Effectiveness Evaluation (Dec. 12, 2001); and Carrie A. Webber et al., 
Savings Estimates for the Energy Star Voluntary labeling Program—2001 
Status Report, Feb. 15, 2002. 

[11] EPA, Office of Inspector General, The Effectiveness and Efficiency 
of EPA’s Air Program, Feb. 27, 1998; and Jacobson and Weiss, op. cit. 

[12] United Nations Environment Program, Ozone Secretariat, Actions on 
Ozone, June 2000. 

[End of section] 

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