Time to shift focus to existing environmental laws, says new UN report (Mongabay)

QUITO, ECUADOR – The most important thing we can do to address climate change isn’t to create new regulations, but ensure that countries comply with the regulations that already exist.

That’s according to the first ever report on environmental policies worldwide, released by the UN on Jan. 24. The report concludes that environmental concerns have reached every corner of the world, such that all countries have at least one environmental law or regulation in place – yet very few nations comply with them.

According to the report, 176 countries have environmental framework laws; 150 countries have enshrined environmental protection or the right to a healthy environment in their constitutions; and 164 countries have created cabinet-level bodies responsible for environmental protection, as of 2017.

Yet, worldwide there are still alarming rates of deforestation, loss of biodiversity, rising global temperatures, and the targeting of environmental rights defenders.

A recent report by the University of Maryland released by Global Forest Watch found that 2017 was the second worst year on record for tropical forest loss, losing 15.8 million hectares (39.0 million acres) of forest – an area the size of 40 million football fields.

“It’s not that we shouldn’t develop more laws, but the emphasis needs to shift from development of policies and institutions to implementation and enforcement,” said Carl Bruch, director of international programs at the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, DC and lead author of the UN study.

One of the greatest challenges to policy implementation is a lack of political will, say researchers. The report highlights a variety of reasons that environmental laws are not fully complied with worldwide, including: the perception that it will impede development, lack of funding for environment ministries, lack of participation in environment issues by civil society and corruption.

“We need to build awareness about why these environmental laws are important, because it all comes back to political will. This determines staffing levels, funding, willingness to prosecute, and whether corruption will be tolerated or punished,” Bruch told Mongabay by phone.

Ecuador is one example where the extraction sector plays a key role in the country’s development plans, which conflicts with the rights of nature and local indigenous populations.

The South American nation was one of the first countries in the world to add the Rights of Nature to its constitution in 2008, which ensure the protection of natural environments and reparations if it is affected by extraction projects.

The same constitution also includes special rights for indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian populations, and ensures their rights to free prior and informed consultation for any extraction projects planned on or near their territory that might affect their livelihood.

Despite these protections, the same constitution also states that nonrenewable natural resources belong to the state. This has become a major point of conflict in the Amazon rainforest, where the current administration of Lenin Moreno is soliciting international mining investments for large-scale copper mining, developing oil fields near the Yasuni National Park, one of the most biodiverse areas of the planet; and auctioning off various oil fields in the northern Amazon.

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