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Environment Watchdog:UN PROPOSES WTO-STYLE BODY, by Dr P K Vasudeva,25 March 2010 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 25 March 2010

Environment Watchdog



By Dr P K Vasudeva


A global environmental watchdog modelled on the powerful World Trade Organisation (WTO) could be formed as part of any international climate change treaty, according to environment ministers meeting in Bali recently. They agreed to form a new working group to investigate proposed reforms to environmental governance procedures.


Speaking to reporters at the close of the meeting, Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), signalled there was growing support for the formation of a new World Environment Organisation (WEO). "The status quo... is no longer an option," he said in regard to the current international environmental governance regime. Within the broader reform options, “the WEO concept is one of them."


The 135 nations present at the meeting had agreed to establish a new high-level ministerial group to assess proposed reforms, which will convene within a few months. Concerns over environmental governance emerged as one of the main sticking points at the Copenhagen Summit of December 2009, where the US negotiators insisted that countries should agree to some form of inspection scheme designed to ensure they are making good on commitments to cut emissions. The proposals drew an angry response from emerging economies such as China and India, which insisted that any such regime would impinge upon their sovereignty.


Any proposals for a WEO are likely to face similar concerns and Steiner was unable to provide details as to whether the proposed watchdog would have the power to impose punitive measures against countries that breach environmental rules in a manner similar to the WTO.


However, the formation of the new working group, which comes just days after the launch of a similar group tasked with investigating approaches to increasing flows of climate funding for developing countries, will fuel optimism that international negotiations are regaining momentum after the Copenhagen Summit.


The Environmental Working Group (EWG) of the US is an environmental organisation that specializes in environmental research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals, agricultural subsidies, public lands, and corporate accountability. EWG is a non-profit organization whose mission, according to their website, is "to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment." Their funding is from "private foundations, individuals and select corporations." The earlier EWG was founded in 1993 by Ken Cook and Richard Wiles, and is headquartered in Washington DC. The UN EWG could be formulated on similar lines with a few amendments based on discussions at Copenhagen so that consensus of all nations is arrived at.


The EWG of the US works on three main policy or issue areas: toxic chemicals and human health, farming and agricultural subsidies, and public lands and natural resources. The group’s largest focus is reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). When the act passed it declared safe some 62,000 chemicals already on the market, even though there were little or no data to support this policy. Since that time another 20,000 chemicals have been put into commerce in the United States, also with little or no data to support their safety. EWG is working to pass the Kid-Safe Chemical Act, which would requires that industrial chemicals be safe for infants, kids and other vulnerable groups. The 52 per cent of EWG's resources go to toxic chemicals and human health.


The EWG has created a cosmetics safety database, which indexes and scores products based on their ingredients. Their Guide to Pesticides in Produce lists 44 fruits and vegetables based on the number of pesticides they were found to contain according to US data. A series of studies testing for the presence of chemicals in people's bodies is known as body burden. The organization has also constructed a national database of tap water testing results from public water utilities. Their work has extended to a variety of other chemicals, including bisphenol A, perchlorate, mercury, flame retardants, and arsenic in treated wood.


The EWG publishes a database of agricultural subsidies and their recipients. Its Action Fund advocates for farm bill reform in the form of decreased disaster payments and subsidies for commodity crops, and increased funding for nutrition programmes, conservation, specialty crops (i.e. fruits and vegetables), and organic agriculture.


The 2010 Global Biodiversity Challenge is perhaps the most important declaration ever to be made in support of environmental protection for sustainable development. Achieving this target will improve the living standards of millions of people and has the potential to raise many from abject poverty.

The focus on human development is underlined by the words of Setijati D.Sastrapradja, Chair, Natura Indonesiana, and one of the participants in the conference. He said: “The 2010 target gives us indicators of success for our efforts to reduce the loss of resources that support our lives. Without such a target nobody knows how much biodiversity is left for the future of our people. The biggest environmental problem is the greed of those who have the power to exploit natural resources and their ignorance of the resulting problems – flood, coral reef damage, timber species/biodiversity loss, land degradation, freshwater scarcity – that are felt by common people. If the meeting in London achieves one thing it should be to produce ways to influence the main decision-makers to use biodiversity wisely.”


The organisation investigates and publishes information regarding oil and gas drilling and mining projects that may pose a threat to human health and the environment.


Additionally, the EWG launched a cell phone radiation report in September 2009 that stated while the long term effects of cell phone radiation are still be studied, there is sufficient research that shows higher risk for brain and salivary gland tumours among heavy cell phone users. It encouraged consumers to look up their cell phone's radiation level, and to wear a headset when talking on the phone to limit their exposure.


For the first time in a decade, the UNEP meeting closed with the release of a formal declaration, which set out a series of detailed policies, including commitments to ensure earthquake-stricken Haiti is redeveloped in an environmentally sustainable manner. Significantly, the declaration also proposed that environment ministers meet again in June to discuss plans to develop a panel of scientists similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to address biodiversity challenges. All eyes would be on the deliberations---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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