What International Agreements Exist to Protect the Environment?

Different nations have come together on their own accord to create international agreements about how to maintain, protect, and care for the earth’s natural resources. These international agreements and treaties are often drafted during large meetings, or conventions, that representatives from various interested nations attend.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

The goal of the Ramsar Convention is to protect and conserve wetland resources. In 1971, representatives from multiple nations met in the Iranian city of Ramsar and signed a treaty that recognized “wetlands of international importance.” In this case, the term wetland includes all water habitats and biomes except the oceans.

Using an ecosystem-centered approach and implementing sustainable use practices, the Ramsar Convention describes how each nation and the international community together can protect wetland habitat all over the world by following these recommendations:

  • Create national wetland policies within each nation.

  • Consider the traditional and cultural value of wetlands.

  • Encourage sustainable use practices to support water quality, fisheries, wildlife habitat, agriculture, and recreation.

  • Strengthen community involvement in wetland conservation.

  • Increase education and knowledge of wetland resources.

The convention members continue to meet regularly in countries around the world to revise and expand wetland protection in the international community and update the Ramsar list of important global wetlands. Check out The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands website for details on the convention’s current activities and recent meetings.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, is one of the largest international agreements concerning the environment. Since its creation in the 1960s, CITES has succeeded in preserving endangered or threatened species all over the world.

Members of this agreement work together to govern the trade in endangered species and to make sure that endangered animals and plants aren’t harmed by international trade that further diminishes their populations. One of their most difficult, ongoing struggles is keeping poachers from illegally harvesting animal products, such as elephant ivory and rhinoceros horns. Check out the Cites website for details on their work concerning endangered species around the world.

The Convention on Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an international convention whose focus is on preserving global biodiversity in the age of genetically modified organisms. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is an agreement created by members of the CBD to safely control the transportation of genetically modified organisms.

The protocol describes guidelines for transporting living things that have been genetically modified or are otherwise the results of biotechnology to avoid potential ecosystem disruption or endangering human health.

The Cartagena Protocol has achieved mixed results. While it has been successful at creating a forum for international discussion of biosafety issues, members are still developing ways to implement and enforce its guidelines. Go to the Convention on Biological Diversity website for information on the convention and news articles related to issues of biosafety.

United Nations agreements

The United Nations (UN) is an international organization with members from nearly every nation in the world. Formed after World War II with the goal of providing a place for discussion and resolution of conflict without war, the UN has also played a large role in other international agreements. In fact, some of the most important international agreements concerning the environment are the result of UN conventions.

Stockholm Declaration

The Stockholm Declaration was created as a result of the UN Conference on the Human Environment in 1972. The declaration states that humans have a shared responsibility to care for the earth’s resources and global environment. Some of the principles that the Stockholm Declaration outlines include

  • That humans have a fundamental right to freedom, equality, and healthy living conditions

  • That natural resources must be protected to benefit humans now and in the future

  • That humans have a shared responsibility to maintain and manage the earth’s resources, wildlife, and habitat

Although the Stockholm Declaration doesn’t bind any nation to specific action, it does outline that nations will work together in international cooperation to maintain a healthy, pollution-free global environment for the good of all humankind. As a result of this declaration, the UN created the UN Environment Program (UNEP) to help nations develop and implement more sustainable practices.

Montreal Protocol

The Montreal Protocol is an agreement signed by all UN members concerning the role humans play in the destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer. Prior to current debates about climate change and global warming, every nation in the UN agreed that humans needed to halt ozone damage by air pollutants. After being signed in 1987 and put into action in 1989, the Montreal Protocol has been successful in phasing out the use of dangerous CFC aerosol chemicals and preventing further damage to the ozone layer.

UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an agreement that came out of a large meeting in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 called the Earth Summit. Nations that were interested in understanding global climate change and reducing the impact of human activities on the world global climate system signed this agreement, which laid the groundwork for later agreements like the Kyoto Protocol.

Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 is probably the most well-known of the UNFCCC updates concerning climate change. At a meeting in Kyoto, Japan, many nations agreed to set limits on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. The nations that signed the Kyoto Protocol agreed to a binding contract to limit their greenhouse gas emissions

Nations still in the process of industrial development, such as China and India, weren’t required to sign the treaty, while other nations, such as the U.S., chose not to sign it. A few nations have succeeded in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in line with Kyoto guidelines, but worldwide, greenhouse gas emissions haven’t decreased significantly.

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