Negotiating and ratifying a multilateral environmental agreement is just the first stage in a longer process. Parties must also take steps to implement their commitments, to monitor and report on progress, and to review collectively the overall effect of implementation efforts.
Maintaining and strengthening countries' participation in multilateral efforts concerned with the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, through international organisations such as the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, the United Nations Environment Programme, UNESCO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the International Maritime Organisation, the Global Environment Facility and the World Conservation Union.
In recent decades many international conventions which deal with freshwater, the ocean and the atmosphere, waste, and biodiversity protection, have been signed. Signatory states or parties do not always adhere to and implement environmental conventions, and conventions may prove to be upon signature or with time too weak to deal with the given problems. Given these circumstances, it is considered that existing international environmental agreements need to be strengthened to be more effective.
Arrangements are also needed for sharing data with the secretariats of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) in order to provide a consistent basis for assessment and reporting, while at the same time reducing the response burden on governments. In parallel, institutional, technical and other resources need to be provided for monitoring, and data collection standards improved. Potential environmental indicators must be tested worldwide, and a set of indicators identified that can be used to report on environmental progress.
The "Earth Summit", the UN Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 resulted in treaties on bio-diversity and climate change, and the adoption of Agenda 21 by all countries.
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), adopted in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, represents the most important global agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. It is an ambitious and wide-ranging treaty, whose full implementation will take many years. Achieving the conservation of biological diversity, its sustainable use, and the equitable sharing of benefits is in each case a complex objective, involving action by many different actors at a wide range of levels. Much action is needed at a national and sub-national level, but also internationally by Parties at both regional and global levels.
Because of the nature of the CBD, which sets out broad principles rather than specific legally binding provisions, a further process is required to give the agreement full effect. This would determine the extent to which existing domestic legislation meets the specific requirements of the Convention, and the need for new or amended domestic legislation to be enacted.
An OECD paper (2002) said that the many conventions, treaties and intergovernmental agreements signed in the past decade have had little or no effect on stopping the rush for timber and mineral resources in the developing world and that extinction of species is now reaching 11% of birds, 18%-24% of mammals, 5% of fish and 8% of plants.
Multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) have proven to be powerful tools for attacking environmental problems. Globally each region has its own regional and sub-regional agreements, mostly relating to the common management or protection of natural resources such as water supply in river basins and transboundary air pollution. There are also many global-level agreements, including those on climate change and biodiversity that resulted from the [United Nations Conference on Environment and Development] (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. In addition to the binding MEAs, there are non-binding agreements (such as Agenda 21) and environmental clauses or principles in wider agreements (such as regional trade treaties). A major trend in MEAs over the years has been a widening focus from issue-specific approaches (such as provisions for shared rivers) to trans-sectoral approaches (such as the Basel Convention), to globalization and to the general recognition of the linkage between environment and development. Another trend is still unfolding: the step-by-step establishment of common principles (such as the Forest Principles) in different sectors.
Bilateral and multilateral environmental agreements have proven powerful instruments of change. Understanding of the key factors governing the success of agreements has evolved considerably. The ultimate and combined effect of the many global and regional agreements remains uncertain but it is clear that all multilateral agreements can make positive contributions to environmental policy.
Coordination between MEAs and regional agreements needs strengthening at several levels, including cooperation between secretariats, national implementation, and regional and global performance monitoring. There is a trend towards agreements with a wider scope, not only at the global but also at the regional and sub-regional levels. At the same time, the common ground between many global conventions is becoming increasingly apparent. This provides room for synergy and avoiding duplication of effort.
The effectiveness of MEAs depends strongly on the institutional arrangements, the financial and compliance mechanisms, and the enforcement systems that have been set up for them.
Although environmental and health issues of common concern to countries in the western hemisphere should, where possible, be addressed through multilateral cooperation, communities at the national and sub-national level must be guaranteed the right to set and maintain higher environmental and public health standards as they deem appropriate.