International Environment:

Literature on the Effectiveness of International Environmental Agreements

RCED-99-148: Published: May 1, 1999. Publicly Released: May 1, 1999.

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Peter F. Guerrero
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GAO provided information on the three components needed to ensure compliance with international environmental agreements.

GAO noted that: (1) data on the results of nations' activities undertaken to meet their international environmental obligations are the basis of determining whether each nation is in compliance with the agreements to which it is a party; (2) historically, such data have had problems, such as being incomplete or inaccurate; (3) it has often been difficult to determine whether nations are meeting their obligations; (4) as a result of efforts to improve reporting, more complete data are being reported; (5) however, according to experts, data quality generally remains questionable; (6) the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Changes contains the same general requirements and supplementary guidelines for data reporting as the Framework Convention itself; (7) the general requirements for the Framework Convention include the requirement to submit annually a national inventory of anthropogenic (manmade) emissions; (8) the details of methodology and the formats to be used to present the data for those inventories--factors that would facilitate analysis, understanding, and comparability of the data reported--are contained in guidelines that provide considerable flexibility and do not require parties to follow a specific procedure; (9) monitoring is the second element necessary to determine whether a nation individually, and all nations collectively, are complying with their international commitments; (10) monitoring includes the review and analysis of data and other information that allow an assessment of the impact or the extent of progress being made in meeting an agreement's stated goal or objective; (11) monitoring can be done to determine both procedural compliance and effectiveness; (12) monitoring activities focused on whether nations implemented processes to transform their international commitments into acceptable rules within their domestic legal systems; (13) however, because enacting domestic laws or implementing policies does not ensure that international commitments will be met, more emphasis is now being placed on mechanisms that monitor effectiveness--that is, whether intended outcomes are being achieved; (14) enforcement is the final element needed to ensure that nations comply with their international environmental obligations; (15) few agreements contain formal provisions for enforcement, however, and the enforcement provisions that do exist are used infrequently or inconsistently; and (16) secretariats and other international organizations are often ineffective at enforcement because they are inadequately funded and are limited in their international jurisdiction.

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