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UN plans to crack down on environmental crime

23 June 2014, 08:42

Nairobi - The UN Environment Assembly (Unea), a new forum of environment ministers from all nations, is to meet in Kenya from Monday to work on ways to promote greener economic growth.

The UN will seek ways to toughen environmental laws to crack down on everything from illegal trade in wildlife to mercury poisoning and hazardous waste.

It is hoped that Unea would give environmental laws more teeth.

The head of the UN environment programme which will host the talks, Achim Steiner, said: "We often have environmental legislation that is well intentioned but is not effective."

Domestic legislation

Many countries sign up for environmental treaties but are often slow to ratify and fail to enforce them in domestic laws, on issues ranging from protecting animals and plants from extinction to outlawing dangerous chemicals or regulating hazardous waste.

"Simply signing a commitment is one step, putting the finance, the technology, the laws in place are critical ingredients," he said.

The Nairobi talks will include a meeting of chief justices, attorneys general and other legal experts. They will seek ways to improve cooperation, speed up ratification of treaties and try to find models for domestic legislation.

"Illegal activities harming the environment are fast evolving and growing in sophistication," UNEP said in a statement. There was insufficient international coordination to catch crime gangs, from illegal fishing to loggers.

Carroll Muffett, president of the Centre for International Environmental Law in Washington, said "there are numerous pitfalls" for environmental treaties.

Gas emissions

One big drawback is that developed nations often fail to provide promised finance to help poor nations fight everything from toxic waste to illegal logging, he said.

"Our experience has shown again and again that this financial support never comes through," he said.

Successes have included conventions such as the 1987 Montreal Protocol for protecting the ozone layer. Others have struggled, such as the 1997 Kyoto Protocol for curbing greenhouse gas emissions which only entered into force in 2005.

The United Nations will also issue a report on ways to crack down on wildlife crime. Steiner said there was an "enormous increase" in illicit trade, from ivory to timber, with increased links to international crime syndicates and drug cartels.

- Reuters


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