6 new UN environmental
treaties go to Senate
by Henry LambPosted: May 13, 2002
1:00 a.m. Eastern
Assistant Secretary of State John Turner asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to ratify six new environmental agreements. He said, "ratification of these agreements is not controversial and is generally supported by the public and private stakeholders."
The reason they are not controversial is that only the "enlightened elite" environmental organizations have ever heard of them.
SPAW means "Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife"; the Cartagena Convention" is short for "Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region." This 1983 treaty was designed originally to promote cooperation among the nations bordering the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean in oil-spill clean ups.
The SPAW Protocol goes much further. Article 1(c) extends the treaty's authority into waterways, all the way to fresh water, and it includes "related terrestrial areas (including watersheds)."
The expressed objective of the Protocol is "To significantly increase the number of, and improve the management of national protected areas and species in the region, including the development of biosphere reserves, where appropriate" and "To coordinate activities with the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as other biodiversity-related treaties, such as the CITES, Ramsar, Bonn and Western Hemisphere Conventions."
The Convention on Biological Diversity was not ratified by the Senate when presented in 1994. This is the treaty that embraces 411 U.N. Biosphere Reserves (47 in the United States) as the starting point for implementing the treaty which seeks to convert "at least half" of the U.S. land area to wilderness, off-limits to humans. The SPAW Protocol would provide international authority for Biosphere Reserve designation in coastal regions.
The Senate's failure to ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity was only a minor obstacle to the treaty's implementation. The Clinton administration formulated its "Ecosystem Management Policy" expressly to comply with the treaty, and it was implemented through rule changes and executive orders.
Clinton's Executive Order 13158 provides much of the authority required to comply with the SPAW Protocol, including Section 7, which says, "Federal agencies taking actions pursuant to this Executive Order must act in accordance with international law. ..." This map shows where protected coastal areas already exist; more detailed maps are here. The Bush administration reviewed this executive order and decided to keep it in place.
Bush's withdrawal from the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol, and the International Criminal Court, followed by this request for ratification of six new U.N. treaties and agreements, is further evidence of fundamental philosophical differences within the administration.
John Turner served in the senior Bush and Clinton administrations and was CEO of the Conservation Fund when junior Bush came to office. Turner is a fly-fishing buddy of Dick Cheney, who expected a top position in the Department of Interior. His prospective nomination met fierce resistance from the grassroots community during the transition. Opponents were told flatly that he would be in the administration, somewhere. The State Department option met less resistance that any of the resource management departments.
This treaty package is following the same path used by the supporters of the Convention on Desertification, which was included in a package of 34 treaties ratified without debate or a recorded vote on Oct. 28, 2000.
At that time, a State Department official presented the treaty at a committee meeting where there were no opposing witnesses invited. The treaty was then taken up at a "business meeting" of the committee, where priorities and procedures are determined. The next appearance was on the Senate floor in a package approved by the committee, with the skids greased for a member to ask for "unanimous consent," which does not require a recorded vote.
Turner's package of treaties was presented on May 7. There was no committee action. The next step, according to committee staff, is a "business meeting." The only way to know when this package will be scheduled for the business meeting is to call the committee, each day, to see if it is on the agenda.
Quite likely, the next time we hear about SPAW, and
the other agreements, is when we discover it buried in the pages of the
Congressional Record, after it has been ratified by unanimous consent.
Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization and chairman of Sovereignty International.
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