NAFTA Countries Adopt Biodiversity Strategy

WASHINGTON, DC, June 26, 2003 (ENS) - North American cooperation in the conservation of biodiversity was adopted as a long term strategy Wednesday by the environment ministers of Canada, Mexico and the United States at their annual meeting as members of the Council of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

Attending this 10th session of Council was Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson, Mexican Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources Victor Lichtinger, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman in one of her last acts in this position. She steps down Friday.


From left, Mexican Environment Secretary Victor Lichtinger, U.S. EPA Administrator Christie Whitman, Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson at the CEC session. (Photo courtesy CEC)
The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) was established by Canada, Mexico and the United States to build cooperation in implementing the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, the environmental side accord to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The biodiversity resolution adopted by the three officials recognizes that "through shared migratory and transboundary species and ecosystems the environments of Canada, Mexico, and the United States are intricately linked and interdependent."

Biodiversity loss generally has a cascading or rippling effect on species, ecosystems, and economies, first felt locally, then nationally and regionally, the resolution states.

The strategy was the result of "extensive collaboration" among governments, nongovernmental organizations, and indigenous people, they said, and explicitly recognized "the importance of the knowledge and role of indigenous and local communities" in the implementation of the strategic plan.


The sharp-shinned hawk breeds across most of Canada and Alaska below tree line, south through the western United States to Central America. (Photo by Frank Schleicher courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
The officials said that the new biodiversity strategy creates an opportunity for North America to serve as a "global leader" in developing cooperative approaches to address biodiversity issues of shared concern.

The management of freshwater is an issue of global concern, the three officials acknowledged. They asked the CEC Secretariat to collect and share amongst them case studies that demonstrate national and local experiences and best practices on water quality.

They are most interested in affordable conservation technologies and techniques, water management practices, and approaches to public participation, to improve water use efficiency and protect aquatic ecosystems; and sustainable watershed practices in North America that relate to promoting water quality.

Noting that in North America there is a significant trade in hazardous waste destined for recycling and disposal operations, the three officials said they are developing a "compatible" North American approach for environmentally sound management of hazardous waste, including pilot projects to track hazardous waste movement.

They directed the CEC Secretariat to identify priority hazardous waste streams, and identify priority hazardous recyclable materials and wastes on which the three countries can work to strengthen environmentally sound management practices regarding their transboundary movement, recovery, and recycling.

This work will require "collaboration and capacity building with our customs agencies," the officials said, and identification of specific capacity building needs in Mexico.

To provide an opportunity for participation by the regulated hazardous wastes community of the three countries and input from other interested stakeholders, a public workshop on these issues is planned with the CEC Joint Public Advisory Committee.

Over the past year, progress has been made towards developing and selecting indicators of children's health and the environment, the three officials said.

Based on the CEC's Cooperative Agenda for Children's Health and the Environment in North America they decided to prepare a first report on such indicators, to be published in 2004. It will outline an initial set of twelve indicators with others to be added later as more data becomes available.


In the clear air of the Colorado Rockies, children learn about renewable energy. (Photo by David Parsons courtesy NREL)
Senior representatives of the three national health ministries will be invited to join in considering the first report on these indicators.

They indicated the intention to publish a second set of indicators of children's health and the environment within five years, and expect the development of such indicators will contribute to the implementation of commitments made at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002.

The three officials also decided to extend the mandate of the Expert Advisory Board on Children's Health and the Environment in North America to September 2004. They will seek the board's advice to ensure that issues of children's health and the environment are integrated throughout the CEC work plan, and will ask the board to prepare a progress report on this issue next year.

Strengthened cooperation on green purchasing, and greater availability of financially relevant environmental information were agreed, as was a draft strategic plan to promote enforcement and compliance cooperation in North America and enhance environmental border security.

The draft strategic plan was presented in a public meeting coordinated with the CEC ministerial meeting, and it is now available for a 60 day public review. The officials said they intend to finalize and implement this plan following that review.

A CEC working group on the sound management of chemicals was asked to report at next year's meeting on ways to reduce and eliminate threats to environment and health from the most toxic and persistent chemicals.

Five North American regional action plans (NARAPs) on the sound management of chemicals have been introduced to date - concerning PCBs, mercury, chlordane, DDT and environmental monitoring and assessment.

The three officials said that the chlordane regional action plans has now been completed and "the production and use of this toxic chemical in North America has ended." The other plans are in various stages of completion.

A draft Phase I action plan for dioxins and furans, and hexachlorobenzene, which emphasizes building capacity and a common North American foundation of expertise and knowledge on these substances, will be released for a 60 day public review period, they said.

The Parties will continue to support the CEC in the amount of US$9 million for the year 2004. They will meet in June 2004, in Mexico, for the next regular session of the Council, a meeting that will mark the CEC's 10th anniversary

The anniversary will trigger a retrospective analysis of the implementation of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, as well as an assessment of the environmental effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement.