Buying compliance?

2007-05-07

in Daily updates, Law, Politics, The environment

Washing machines

Unusually, this week’s roster of environment related presentations at Oxford included something on the Stockholm Convention. Specifically, Dr. Veerle Heyvaert from the LSE spoke to the Socio-Legal Dimensions of Environmental Law and Regulation seminar series about ‘buying compliance’ within the Stockholm framework.

The central part of her presentation addressed the relationship between the two major kinds of state involved in Stockholm. Essentially, there are rich developed states that had already sharply restricted or banned most persistent organic pollutants (POPs) covered by Stockholm before negotiations even began. Then, there are developing states that either still used some of the pesticides restricted or produced large amounts of unwanted by-products such as dioxins or furans. The differences between the two are largely centered around ongoing behaviour, financial resources, and institutional capabilities.

Dr. Heyvaert suggested that the major contribution of the rich states is to help pay for the costs of POP abatement in the poor states. She expressed concern that while the latter is seen as binding, the former is somehow seen as voluntary or charitable. While the Stockholm Convention lacks any official mechanism to ensure compliance, it seems more likely that pressure will be put on poor states to stop emitting than on rich states to help pay for it.

Clearly, there are issues of equity involved. From the perspective of international law, however, it seems to me that there is a more fundamental issue at hand. Cases like the Trail Smelter Arbitration of 1937 have helped to make explicit the norm in international customary law that states do not have the right to pollute the territory of their neighbours. As such, states that have already cut back are not in violation, whereas those that continue to emit are. While this may be a neatly expressed legal situation, it doesn’t conform too well with the reality of who can pay and what actions individuals are likely to take. As such, mechanisms such as those in the Stockholm Convention that allow richer states to assist with the costs of cleaning up industrial and agricultural processes in poor states seem to make both equitable and legal sense.

The question is how to apply such arrangements to more demanding cases. Nobody with a choice is going to pump out large volumes of Mirex or Toxaphene. They are among the nastiest chemicals humans have ever dreamed up. As such, there is a limited incentive to free ride on a system that seeks to limit their production and usage, especially when there are effective channels for financial and technical assistance in doing so.

At the base of all this, there is the question of what goes into the equity calculation. You might choose to consider past emissions when deciding who pays what, or you might look only at present practice. You might consider overall wealth or not do so; require states to pay equal amounts, equal percentages of GDP, or use some other formula. What kind of balance you adopt is the stuff of political deal-making, which I suppose is where most international considerations of equity are ultimately addressed in a meaningful way.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Anon @ Wadh May 7, 2007 at 9:08 pm

It is bloody obvious that you need to consider past emissions of rich states and the limited present means of poor states when deciding who pays what. Otherwise, your environmental solutions will just further entrench the status quo.

Anon May 8, 2007 at 4:38 pm

Your blog has been listed on this page

Milan May 9, 2007 at 12:25 am

Anon @ Wadh

While that may well be true, it is worth asking whether environmental regulations should seek to do anything beyond deal with the specific problem for which they have been formulated. Using something like carbon trading to achieve broader goals of distributive justice might make it a lot less likely to work, as well as even harder to reach agreement upon.

. July 26, 2007 at 9:35 am

To follow-up decision SC-3/19 on effectiveness
evaluation, taken by the third Conference
of the Parties, the Stockholm Convention
Secretariat issued a call to parties for nominations
to the regional organization groups for
persistent organic pollutant monitoring. The
regional organization groups are mandated to
facilitate the regional implementation of the
global monitoring plan on persistent organic
pollutants and an implementation plan for the
first effectiveness evaluation. The Bureau is
expected to select members by 30 July 2007
(http://www.pops.int/documents/meetings/
effeval/En%20Invitation%20Let%20to%20
nominate%20Members%20for%20the%20
Regional%20Organization%20Group.pdf)

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