International treaties, protocols, and conventions

It is exceedingly difficult to negotiate enforceable treaties that bind all the nations of the planet to a single course of action; the diversity of culture, national priorities, economic development, and wealth are too great. The best the international community can achieve is an Agreement, Declaration

of Intent, or Protocol[17] that a subset of nations feels able to sign. Such agreements directly influence policy in the nations that sign them. And by defining the high ground they exert moral pressure on both signatories and nonsignatories alike. Two are particularly significant in their influence on government policy on materials:

The Montreal Protocol (1989) is a treaty aimed at reducing the use of substances that deplete the ozone layer of the stratosphere.

Ozone depletion allows more UV radiation to reach the surface of the Earth, damaging living organisms. The culprits are typified by CFCs—chlorofluorocarbons—that were widely used as refrigerants and as blowing agents for polymer foams, particularly those used for house insulation. The Protocol has largely achieved its aims.

The Kyoto Protocol (1997) is an international treaty to reduce the

emissions of gases that, through the greenhouse effect, cause climate change. It sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community that have signed it, committing them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the five-year period 2008-2012.

International directives and protocols are usually based on principles— statements of what are seen as fundamental rights—rather than on laws that cannot be agreed or enforced. Here are examples of some that have emerged from the Protocols and Conventions listed in Table 5.1:

■ Principle 21 (Stockholm Declaration). The right to exploit one’s own environment.

■ Principle 2 (Rio Declaration). The right to development without damage to others.

■ Precautionary principle (WCED report). Where there are possibilities of large irreversible impacts, the lack of scientific certainty should not stop preventative action from being taken.

■ Polluter pays principle. Transfers the responsibility and cost of pollution to the polluter.

■ The principle of sustainable development. Protection of the environment, equity of burden.

The idea is that these should provide a framework within which strate­gies and actions are developed.