A new kind of environmental treaty: the Global Pact
Over the years the international community has produced more than 100 environmental agreements leaving us with the question of how to deal with such a large number of treaties on the same topic, and how they could really be implemented efficiently. During the side event “Global Pact for the Environment – how can it help implement the Paris Agreement?” at the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP24) some experts in international environmental law tried to answer those questions by providing a draft for a new global pact, the so-called Draft Global Pact for the Environment and the Paris Agreement (DGPE).
The DGPE was prepared by the Group of Experts for the Pact, an international network of over one hundred world-renowned specialists in environmental law representing more than forty nations, with the participation of the civil society. The draft has different goals, such as to become a legally binding document that would harmonize the principles of international environmental law. Among others, the DPGE aims at codifying a globally recognized right to live in an healthy environment. For this reason, the document does not only address states, but also non-state actors since they play an essential role in the implementation of environmental law.
Following the classical structure of a multilateral international agreement, the draft of the Global Pact has a preamble explaining the main reasons for the creation of the document. Among others, it mentions the growing threats to the environment and the urgent need to respond to them at the global level. The preamble also recalls the mutual linkages between environmental protection and human rights, the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples, as well as intergenerational justice. Moreover, DGPE underlines the role of women in achieving sustainable development goals, as well as that of science and education.
A very important factor to stress is the presence of a monitoring mechanism for the implementation of the Global Pact. Indeed, under Article 21, a committee of independent experts is established to make sure that the Parties comply with the obligations laid down in the DGPE. In this way, the imposition of penalties and the use of court procedures would be reduced, while the realisation of the principles codified would be more flexible and effective. As a result, States might be more interested in respecting the Pact. The monitoring system directly refers to the so-called “compliance mechanism” applied in international environmental law. The latter enables the launch of pre-emptive measures by identifying problems of compliance or non-compliance with norms.
The Draft Pact can be defined as an umbrella treaty contributing to the process of achieving the Paris Agreement’s objectives by strengthening the codified globally recognised principles of international environmental law. At the same time, however, the Pact does not have the aim of replacing existing treaties, but will coexist and supplement already concluded environmental agreements. The DGPE would bring considerable added value to Paris Agreement implementation process in terms of norm accessibility, legibility and legal certainty, as well as would provide a clearer direction for the adjudicators since it could become a convenient source of well-settled principles providing the background for more specific provisions of the Paris Agreement.
Of course, though, the introduction of the Global Pact raised some critics regarding, for example, the fairly general wording, the absence of specific references to its implementation and also the failure to provide for the institution of an individual complaint mechanism in this regard.
The question about the relationship between the Pact and other sectoral agreements has also been asked. One of the most often asked questions concerns the possible options of States’ attitudes to the proposed Pact. It should also be noted that the Pact does not provide any mechanisms for resolving disputes arising from its interpretation and application.
To answer one of the main questions about the reasons to draft another international treaty on the topic of the environment, the panellists at the COP24 highlighted the fact that the Pact would be categorised as part of the so-called “new generation” of legally binding instruments, thus covering the gap left by older “generation” of covenants. We could have had one permanent international body and a new treaty but we, as international community, lacked and are still lacking the political will: states would have had to be accountable for their actions. Now it’s the time for changing the world needs: human rights and environmental law need to work together. We can’t wait for tomorrow, we must act now.