How to make international agreements more effective?

The world has created a number of international bio-diversity related Conventions, as a means to control degradation of the global natural environment.  During recent discussions, the question was asked how some of these so-called Multilateral Environmental Agreements could be made more effective. The challenge is how to make the obligations of the Conventions stick at national level, as all international agreements have to respect the sovereignty of individual nations.

When countries ratify a Convention, one of the commitments is to implement in their national laws the obligations that they have under the international agreement. In reality, proper enforcement under national laws is often lacking, and there are no real penalties for non-compliance.

For example, a country that has ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), but that does not protect its species will not be charged a large amount of money to compensate for the damage. Nor are there other real sanctions, apart from “name and shame”. All the Secretariat of the CBD can do is to write a letter of complaint to the Head of State of the affected country.

The situation is slightly different for those international agreements that encourage parties to the convention to nominate specific areas for protection. If countries endanger a global heritage site protected under the World Heritage Convention, the area may be listed as a “site in danger” and eventually be taken off the record as penalty for non-compliance. However, any compensation for the destruction of the site is up to the discretion of the country, and there are no penalties for not doing so.

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The Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild fauna and Flora (CITES) can impose trade restrictions on parties that do not fulfil their international obligations. This is serious as CITES estimates that the regulated global wildlife trade is between USD350m and USD530m per year.  But critics argue that the multibillion-dollar illegal trade in wildlife is a growing problem, and a big reason is nations’ failure to enact stiff penalties for traffickers or enforce wildlife laws already on the books.

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It is great to have a range of international nature conservation agreements, but if we want to get serious about biodiversity conservation, breaking the rules should be punished – one way or another. Don’t you think so?

What meaningful sanctions should nations agree on, to encourage compliance to the international conventions?

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