Global green disputes body proposed

Dutch environment minister calls for new international environmental settlement mechanism

A global judicial body should be created to strengthen and enforce international environmental law and resolve disputes, Dutch environment minister Jan Pronk said today. Such a body could eventually operate across all the 200 or more multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) already in existence, the minister said, and should be a counterbalance to the trade disputes settlement mechanism of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Speaking to a seminar of international lawyers in the Hague, Mr Pronk said that dispute settlement procedures in existing MEAs were often "no more than dead letters". Mechanisms were "more often than not optional" and, in any case, governments showed "a clear lack of political will to use them," he said. Even where procedures were used, it was difficult to enforce rulings, while states could only bring actions if they had an individual legal interest.

Recent events such as the Baia Mare cyanide spill in Romania underlined the need for MEA dispute settlement mechanisms to be improved, Mr Pronk said. Moreover, he added, there was an inescapable trend towards inclusion of trade measures in MEAs, such as seen already in the Basel convention on trade in hazardous waste, the Montreal protocol on ozone-depleting substances, the Kyoto climate protocol and the new Cartagena protocol on biosafety.

The solution, both to specific environmental disputes between countries and to the increasing overlap between environmental and trade rules, the minister said, had to be the creation of a "uniform, compulsory MEA dispute settlement mechanism," based on a "general legal framework". Whether or not work should begin on a comprehensive treaty or should start by including just a few MEAs to begin with, Mr Pronk said, "I firmly believe that it is in the interest of the environment that a comprehensive, cross-sector treaty is the most suitable instrument".

Follow Up:
Dutch environment ministry, tel: +31 70 339 3939.

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