Summit: Parliamentarians Think Globally, Act Locally

By Amy Shatzkin

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, September 4, 2002 (ENS) - Lawmakers from around the world meeting here as part of the World Summit on Sustainable Development urged their counterparts to develop concrete legislation at the national level to accomplish global goals embodied in the Johannesburg Action Plan and Agenda 21, the program agreed at the Rio Earth Summit 10 years ago.

A two day Parliamentary Workshop on Clean Air and Clean Water was convened as a parallel event for legislators by Parliamentarians for Global Action in cooperation with the South African Ministry of Health and the South African Ministry of Water Affairs and Forestry.


Airborne soot particles and toxic compounds deposited on snow have reached Sweden's Lake Stora Le during spring snow melt. (Photo by Lennart Henrikson courtesy WWF-Sweden)
Collaborating nongovernmental organizations included the IUCN, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Waterkeeper Alliance, the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, the FTSE Group, and Innovest.

Participants agreed that legislators everywhere can address global issues of energy consumption, water and sanitation by tackling pollution problems at home. They produced a declaration calling for effective national legislation to reduce air and water pollution.

Lack of political will and effective governance were acknowledged to be the main obstacles to successful implementation of laws governing pollution.

“Science isn’t lacking, just the political will,” railed Mayor Jerry Brown of Oakland, California. The former California governor warned that advances won’t be “generated by talk, but by confronting those doing the damage.”

Professor Koh Kheng Lian noted that Singapore’s success in improving its air quality is due in part to “continuous political will” as Singapore has had just two prime ministers in the past 40 years. Professor Koh and several other workshop speakers are members of the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law (CEL).


Congressman James Greenwood (Photo courtesy Office of the Congressman)
Good governance emerged as an important theme in sustaining effective legislation. “Governance makes legislation work,” said U.S. Congressman James Greenwood, a Pennsylvania Republican. “Legislators need to be partners in the process of creating international treaties,” he said, and as they sometimes fail to understand the process of implementing international treaties, “legislators must use domestic legislation to ensure that treaties are implemented on a local level.”

On the local level in Egypt, Dr. Hoda Rezkanna, a member of the Egyptian Parliament, said that water access and quality problems are caused not only by “lack of law enforcement and insufficient information dissemination” but also by the “lack of institutional coordination.”

Successful implementation depends on “different components of government working collaboratively,” noted Professor Mobane, a representative of the South African Ministry of Water Affairs and Forestry. He attributed the “collaborative work of various government departments” as key to South Africa’s ability to combat a cholera epidemic that sickened more than 50,000 people in 2000 and 2001.

Chief Mercy Almona-Isei, Chair of Nigeria’s House Committee on the Environment suggested that governments need to "focus on joint legislation profitable for their societies. Constant synergy between parliaments needs to exist for sufficient legislation to be in place,” she said.


Dr. Rajendra Pachauri of India chairs the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Photo courtesy IISD-ENB)
“The way forward will depend on strengthening existing policies and implementation and instituting regional agreements and cooperation,” said Dr. Rajendra Pachauri of India, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and director general of the TATA Energy and Research Institute.

In his keynote address to the summit on September 1, Dr. Pachauri warned, "It seems clear that the presence of climate change exaggerates the pressures currently being experienced by water managers, and, additionally adds a new level of uncertainty. The most crucial aspect of the climate change uncertainty is the possibility that climate induced effects may be non-linear, carrying potential surprises beyond those already considered and modeled."

"It is a challenge for all of us to assist developing nations to build their capacity to adapt to that amount of global climate change that is already inevitable," Dr. Pachauri said.

Elissavet Papademetriou, a member of the Greek Parliament, agreed with the need for regional cooperation in order to solve trans-boundary pollution problems. She said that Greece “alone cannot implement its obligations” to preserve the Evros River watershed and wetlands, which straddles the border between Greece and Turkey. “Where water systems are shared, contracting parties need joint implementation,” she said.


Evros River, Greece (Photo courtesy Greece Online)
Reporting on the status of earlier negotiations between Greek and Turkish parliamentarians on this issue brokered by Parliamentarians for Global Action, Papademetriou said the conflict resolution process has “accelerated the pace of government in maximizing transparencies on environmental and water issues.”

She said that the discussion has established the Evros as a “fully protected wetland, and created an unbreakable link between the two countries.”

Cooperative legislation is only the first step of the process cautioned Anna Manafova, a member of parliament from Azerbaijan. "International monitoring, as well as information exchanges are key to solving international pollution problems,” she said, and noted that without joint regulation, Azerbaijan would not have been able to maintain clean water quality in the Caspian Sea.

“Enforcement is just as important as legislation,” declared Professor Antonio Benjamin, associate director of the Green Planet Institute in Sao Paolo, Brazil and a member of the UN Legal Expert Group on Environmental Crimes and the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law. Reflecting the summit’s focus on multi-stakeholder partnerships, Professor Benjamin acknowledged the crucial need for cooperation among groups to create effective enforcement mechanisms.

“Enforcement in the environmental context is now a combination of public and private actions, and it’s hard to see where the role of the state begins and where the role of citizens, NGOs and even corporations ends,” the Brazilian professor noted.

“There is no perfect system addressing air pollution or pollution of any type," Benjamin said. "The best system is a non-system because you need a mix of instruments including market oriented approaches and powerful educational tools throughout civil society.”

The engagement of civil society emerged as a vital element for success in combating pollution problems. Margaret Catley-Carlson, chair of the Clean Water Partnership, noted that since “it costs a lot less to prevent water pollution than to clean it up afterwards, members of parliament need to help communities take initiative to learn how they can change patterns of consumption and learn to be partners in resource management.”

“Communities are often not consulted,” said Yoshio Yatsu, chair of the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development. “Community involvement needs to be the cornerstone of legislative and enforcement practices.”

Yatsu pointed to the fact that women, who are often household managers, are rarely asked for advice when governments consider water allocation policies.

Underscoring the connection between conservation and public education, Dr. Grethel Aguilar, a Costa Rican environmental law specialist who is also a CEL member, noted that her country “takes initiatives to encourage individuals to value their resources.”


Dr. Grethel Aguilar addresses the parliamentary workshop (Photo courtesy IUCN)
In order to preserve the ecosystems that provide and protect water resources, the Costa Rican government pays farmers not to cut down trees and teaches them to maintain the forests that remain.

U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat who serves on the House Committee on International Relations, suggested that water agencies should include money in their budgets to develop components for a school curriculum to educate children.

Regardless of which steps legislators take to implement globally negotiated agreements or initiatives between government, civil society and business groups, it is clear that, as Congressman Greenwood declared, “The key to saving human lives in no small part is in the hands of national legislators.”