| OSLO, June 22
OSLO, June 22 The United Nations will seek ways
to toughen environmental laws this week to crack down on
everything from illegal trade in wildlife to mercury poisoning
and hazardous waste.
The U.N. Environment Assembly (UNEA), a new forum of all
nations including environment ministers, business leaders and
civil society, will meet in Nairobi from June 23-27 to work on
ways to promote greener economic growth.
That drive includes giving environmental laws more teeth.
"We often have environmental legislation that is well
intentioned but is not effective," Achim Steiner, head of the
U.N. Environment Programme which will host the talks, told
Reuters in a telephone interview.
Many countries sign up for environmental treaties but are
often slow to ratify and fail to enforce them in domestic laws,
on issues ranging from protecting animals and plants from
extinction to outlawing dangerous chemicals or regulating
"Simply signing a commitment is one step, putting the
finance, the technology, the laws in place are critical
ingredients," he said.
The Nairobi talks will include a meeting of chief justices,
attorneys general and other legal experts. They will seek ways
to improve cooperation, speed up ratification of treaties and
try to find models for domestic legislation.
"Illegal activities harming the environment are fast
evolving and growing in sophistication," UNEP said in a
statement. There was insufficient international coordination to
catch crime gangs, from illegal fishing to loggers.
Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International
Environmental Law in Washington, said "there are numerous
pitfalls" for environmental treaties.
One big drawback is that developed nations often fail to
provide promised finance to help poor nations fight everything
from toxic waste to illegal logging, he said.
"Our experience has shown again and again that this
financial support never comes through," he said.
And treaties face big hurdles even after they are
negotiated. Last year, for instance, nations agreed a new
convention to limit mercury, a heavy metal that can damage the
human nervous system and cause liver damage and memory loss.
So far the United States is the only nation to have ratified
the pact, which needs 50 ratifications to enter into force.
About 100 other nations including China and most
industrialised states have signed - a declaration of intent to
formally ratify the pact.
"We anticipate to have the minimum 50 ratifications in two
and a half years," Steiner said. "That would be a very fast
Successes have included conventions such as the 1987
Montreal Protocol for protecting the ozone layer. Others have
struggled, such as the 1997 Kyoto Protocol for curbing
greenhouse gas emissions which only entered into force in 2005.
The United Nations will also issue a report on ways to crack
down on wildlife crime. Steiner said there was an "enormous
increase" in illicit trade, from ivory to timber, with increased
links to international crime syndicates and drug cartels.
The UNEA, a forum agreed at an Earth Summit in Rio de
Janeiro in 2012, marks a shift from a former system in which
only 58 nations met yearly to discuss environmental problems.
"It is a watershed," Steiner said.
(Reporting by Alister Doyle; Editing by Sophie Hares)