Environmental legislation: International Law, Montreal protocol, Kyoto protocol, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate change, CITES.

Environmental legislation

The awareness and consideration for environment covers several environmental issues such as pollution of water, air and soil, land degradation, industrialization, urbanization, depletion of natural resources etc. Environmental Law plays a very crucial and important role in regulating the use of natural resources and in protecting the environment. The success of environmental legislations mainly depends on the way they are enforced. Legislation also serves as a valuable tool for educating masses about their responsibility in maintaining healthy environment.

International laws

International environmental law is a body of international law concerned with protecting the environment, primarily through bilateral and multilateral international agreements. International environmental law developed as a subset of international law in the mid-twentieth century. Although conservation movements developed in many nations in the nineteenth century, these movements typically only addressed environmental concerns within a single nation. A growing body of environmental scientific evidence from the 1950s and 1960s, however, illustrated global environmental stresses, along with the need for a multinational solution to environmental issues. Scientific research established that air and water pollution, overfishing, and other environmental issues often have effects that reach far beyond the borders of any particular nation. By the late-1960s, the international community realized that an international approach to environmental issues was required.

International environmental law is derived primarily from three sources: customary international law; international treaties; and judicial decisions of international courts. Customary international law refers to a set of unwritten laws that have arisen from widespread custom and usage among nations. Examples of environmental international customary law include warning a neighboring nation about a major accident that could affect its environment.


Montreal protocol

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is the landmark multilateral environmental agreement that regulates the production and consumption of nearly 100 man-made chemicals referred to as ozone depleting substances (ODS). When released to the atmosphere, those chemicals damage the stratospheric ozone layer, Earth’s protective shield that protects humans and the environment from harmful levels of ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Adopted on 15 September 1987, the Protocol is to date the only UN treaty ever that has been ratified every country on Earth – all 197 UN Member States.

The Montreal Protocol phases down the consumption and production of the different ODS in a step-wise manner, with different timetables for developed and developing countries (referred to as “Article 5 countries”). Under this treaty, all parties have specific responsibilities related to the phase out of the different groups of ODS, control of ODS trade, annual reporting of data, national licensing systems to control ODS imports and exports, and other matters. Developing and developed countries have equal but differentiated responsibilities, but most importantly, both groups of countries have binding, time-targeted and measurable commitments.

The Protocol includes provisions related to Control Measures (Article 2), Calculation of control levels (Article 3), Control of trade with non-Parties (Article 4), Special situation of developing countries (Article 5), Reporting of data (Article 7), Non-compliance (Article 8), Technical assistance (Article 10), as well as other topics. The substances controlled by the treaty are listed in Annexes A (CFCs, halons), B (other fully halogenated CFCs, carbon tetrachloride, methyl chloroform), C (HCFCs), E (methyl bromide) and F (HFCs).

The treaty evolves over time in light of new scientific, technical and economic developments, and it continues to be amended and adjusted. The Meeting of the Parties is the governance body for the treaty, with technical support provided by an Open-ended Working Group, both of which meet on an annual basis. The Parties are assisted by the Ozone Secretariat, which is based at UN Environment  headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

Multilateral Fund

The Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol  was established in 1991 under Article 10 of the treaty. The Fund’s objective is to provide financial and technical assistance to developing country parties to the Montreal Protocol whose annual per capita consumption and production of ODS is less than 0.3 kg to comply with the control measures of the Protocol.

The Multilateral Fund’s activities are implemented by four international agencies – UN Environment (UNEP) , UN Development Programme (UNDP)UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and the World Bank – as well as bilateral agencies of non-Article 5 countries.

Responsibility for overseeing the operation of the Fund rests with the Executive Committee, which comprises seven members each from Article 5 countries and non-Article 5 countries. The Committee is assisted by the Multilateral Fund Secretariat, which is based in Montreal. Since inception, the Multilateral Fund has supported over 8,600 projects including industrial conversion, technical assistance, training and capacity building worth over US$3.9 billion.

Throughout the implementation of the Montreal Protocol, developing countries have demonstrated that, with the right kind of assistance, they are willing, ready and able to be full partners in global efforts to protect the environment. In fact, many developing countries have exceeded the reduction targets for phasing out ODS, with the support of the Multilateral Fund.

Phase out of HCFCs – the Montreal Amendment

Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) are gases used worldwide in refrigeration, air-conditioning and foam applications, but they are being phased out under the Montreal Protocol since deplete the ozone layer. HCFCs are both ODS and powerful greenhouse gases: the most commonly used HCFC is nearly 2,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its global warming potential (GWP).  Recognizing the potential benefits to the Earth’s climate, in September 2007 the Parties decided to accelerate their schedule to phase out HCFCs. Developed countries have been reducing their consumption of HCFCs and will completely phase them out by 2020. Developing countries agreed to start their phase out process in 2013 and are now following a stepwise reduction until the complete phase-out of HCFCs by 2030.

In Article 5 countries, this HCFC phase out is in full swing, with support from the Multilateral Fund for the implementation of multi-stage HCFC Phase out Management Plans (HPMPs), investment projects and capacity building activities.  Throughout this process, the Parties are encouraging all countries to promote the selection of alternatives to HCFCs that minimize environmental impacts, in particular impacts on climate, as well as meeting other health, safety and economic considerations. For the climate consideration, this means taking global-warming potential, energy use and other relevant factors into account.  For refrigeration and air conditioning, this means optimizing refrigerants, equipment, servicing practices, recovery, recycling and disposal at end of life.

Phase down of HFCs – the Kigali Amendment

Another group of substances, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), were introduced as non-ozone depleting alternatives to support the timely phase out of CFCs and HCFCs. HFCs are now widespread in air conditioners, refrigerators, aerosols, foams and other products. While these chemicals do not deplete the stratospheric ozone layer, some of them have high GWPs ranging from 12 to 14,000. Overall HFC emissions are growing at a rate of 8% per year and annual emissions are projected to rise to 7-19% of global CO2 emissions by 2050. Uncontrolled growth in HFC emissions therefore challenges efforts to keep global temperature rise at or below 2°C this century. Urgent action on HFCs is needed to protect the climate system.

The Parties to the Montreal Protocol reached agreement at their 28th Meeting of the Parties on 15 October 2016 in Kigali, Rwanda to phase-down HFCs. Countries agreed to add HFCs to the list of controlled substances, and approved a timeline for their gradual reduction by 80-85 per cent by the late 2040s. The first reductions by developed countries are expected in 2019. Developing countries will follow with a freeze of HFCs consumption levels in 2024 and in 2028 for some nations.

The issue has been under negotiation by the Parties since 2009 and the successful agreement on the Kigali Amendment (Decision XXVIII/1 and accompanying Decision XXVIII/2) continues the historic legacy of the Montreal Protocol. The Kigali Amendment will enter into force on 1 January 2019 for those countries that have ratified the amendment.

The pathway to implement the HFC phase down is to reduce dependency on high-GWP alternatives and increase the adoption of low-GWP, energy-efficient technologies as part of the HCFC phase-out process under the Montreal Protocol. Such a “smart approach” can achieve the Montreal Protocol’s objective of eliminating HCFCs while at the same time achieving energy efficiency gains and CO2 emissions reduction — a “climate co-benefit.”

Success achieved to date and the job ahead

With the full and sustained implementation of the Montreal Protocol, the ozone layer is projected to recover by the middle of this century. Without this treaty, ozone depletion would have increased tenfold by 2050 compared to current levels, and resulted in millions of additional cases of melanoma, other cancers and eye cataracts. It has been estimated, for example, that the Montreal Protocol is saving an estimated two million people each year by 2030 from skin cancer.

To date, the Parties to the Protocol have phased out 98% of ODS globally compared to 1990 levels. Because most of these substances are potent greenhouse gases, the Montreal Protocol is also contributing significantly to the protection of the global climate system. From 1990 to 2010, the treaty’s control measures are estimated to have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 135 gigatons of CO2, the equivalent of 11 gigatons a year.

Under the Kigali Amendment, actions to limit the use of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol is expected to prevent the emissions of up to 105 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent of greenhouse gases, helping to avoid up to 0.5 degree Celsius of global temperature rise by 2100 – a truly unparalleled contribution to climate mitigation efforts, and the single largest contribution the world has made towards keeping the global temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, a target agreed at the Paris climate conference.

Kyoto protocol

Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty, named for the Japanese city in which it was adopted in December 1997, that aimed to reduce the emission of gases that contribute to global warming. In force since 2005, the protocol called for reducing the emission of six greenhouse gases in 41 countries plus the European Union to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels during the “commitment period” 2008–12. It was widely hailed as the most significant environmental treaty ever negotiated, though some critics questioned its effectiveness.

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted as the first addition to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international treaty that committed its signatories to develop national programs to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), affect the energy balance of the global atmosphere in ways expected to lead to an overall increase in global average temperature, known as global warming (see also greenhouse effect). According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, established by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization in 1988, the long-term effects of global warming would include a general rise in sea level around the world, resulting in the inundation of low-lying coastal areas and the possible disappearance of some island states; the melting of glaciers, sea ice, and Arctic permafrost; an increase in the number of extreme climate-related events, such as floods and droughts, and changes in their distribution; and an increased risk of extinction for 20 to 30 percent of all plant and animal species. The Kyoto Protocol committed most of the Annex I signatories to the UNFCCC (consisting of members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and several countries with “economies in transition”) to mandatory emission-reduction targets, which varied depending on the unique circumstances of each country. Other signatories to the UNFCCC and the protocol, consisting mostly of developing countries, were not required to restrict their emissions. The protocol entered into force in February 2005, 90 days after being ratified by at least 55 Annex I signatories that together accounted for at least 55 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions in 1990.

The protocol provided several means for countries to reach their targets. One approach was to make use of natural processes, called “sinks,” that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. The planting of trees, which take up carbon dioxide from the air, would be an example. Another approach was the international program called the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which encouraged developed countries to invest in technology and infrastructure in less-developed countries, where there were often significant opportunities to reduce emissions. Under the CDM, the investing country could claim the effective reduction in emissions as a credit toward meeting its obligations under the protocol. An example would be an investment in a clean-burning natural gas power plant to replace a proposed coal-fired plant. A third approach was emissions trading, which allowed participating countries to buy and sell emissions rights and thereby placed an economic value on greenhouse gas emissions. European countries initiated an emissions-trading market as a mechanism to work toward meeting their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. Countries that failed to meet their emissions targets would be required to make up the difference between their targeted and actual emissions, plus a penalty amount of 30 percent, in the subsequent commitment period, beginning in 2012; they would also be prevented from engaging in emissions trading until they were judged to be in compliance with the protocol. The emission targets for commitment periods after 2012 were to be established in future protocols.


Although the Kyoto Protocol represented a landmark diplomatic accomplishment, its success was far from assured. Indeed, reports issued in the first two years after the treaty took effect indicated that most participants would fail to meet their emission targets. Even if the targets were met, however, the ultimate benefit to the environment would not be significant, according to some critics, since China, the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases, and the United States, the world’s second largest emitter, were not bound by the protocol (China because of its status as a developing country and the United States because it had not ratified the protocol). Other critics claimed that the emission reductions called for in the protocol were too modest to make a detectable difference in global temperatures in the subsequent several decades, even if fully achieved with U.S. participation. Meanwhile, some developing countries argued that improving adaptation to climate variability and change was just as important as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate change

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an intergovernmental treaty developed to address the problem of climate change. The Convention, which sets out an agreed framework for dealing with the issue, was negotiated from February 1991 to May 1992 and opened for signature at the June 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) — also known as the Rio Earth Summit. The UNFCCC entered into force on 21 March 1994, ninety days after the 50th country’s ratification had been received. By December 2007, it had been ratified by 192 countries.

Parties to the Convention continue to meet regularly to take stock of progress in implementing their obligations under the treaty, and to consider further actions to address the climate change threat. They have also negotiated a protocol to the Convention. The Kyoto Protocol was first agreed in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, although ongoing discussions were needed between 1998 and 2004 to finalize the “fine print” of the agreement. The Protocol obliges industrialized countries and countries of the former Soviet bloc (known collectively as “Annex I Parties”) to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases by an average of about 5% for the period 2008-2012 compared with 1990 levels. However, under the terms agreed in Kyoto, the Protocol only enters into force following ratification by 55 Parties to the UNFCCC, and if these 55 countries included a sufficient number of Annex I Parties that at least 55% of that group’s total carbon dioxide emissions for 1990 were represented. Although the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the United States, rejected the Kyoto Treaty in 2001 after the election of President George W. Bush, a majority of other Annex I Parties, including Canada, Japan, and the countries of the European Union ratified the treaty. In November 2004, the Russian Federation also ratified the Protocol, thus reaching the 55% threshold. The Protocol finally entered into force as a legally-binding document on 16 February 2005. By December 2007, the Protocol had been ratified by 177 countries, including Annex I parties representing 63.7% of Annex I greenhouse gas emissions in 1990.

With the immediate future of the Kyoto Protocol secured by Russia’s ratification, an increasing focus of discussions since 2005 has been on the multilateral response to climate change post-2012, when the Protocol’s first commitment period expires. At the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali in December 2007, delegates agreed on a “roadmap” for 2008 and 2009 designed to bring about an agreement by December 2009.

Conference of the Parties

Parties to the UNFCCC continue to adopt decisions, review progress and consider further action through regular meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COP). The Conference of Parties is the highest-decision making body of the Convention, and usually meets annually.


The Conference of Parties and the Convention goals are supported by various bodies and organizations. This includes a Permanent Secretariat with various duties set out under Article 8 of the UNFCCC. Since 1996, the Secretariat has been based in Bonn, Germany, after an offer to host it was accepted by Parties to the first meeting of the COP in 1995.

Financing and the Global Environment Facility

The UNFCCC includes provision under Article 10 for a financial mechanism to support developing countries and countries with economies in transition to a market economy in implementing the Convention. Parties to the UNFCCC decided that the Global Environment Facility (GEF) should act as the financial mechanism, given its expertise in this area.

Expert Groups and Other Constituted Bodies

The Convention is also supported by a number of expert groups and other constituted bodies. These include the Consultative Group of Experts (CGE) on national communications from “non-Annex I” Parties (a group composed mostly of developing countries). Other bodies include the Least Developed Country Expert Group (LEG), the Expert Group on Technology Transfer, and the Executive Board of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation Supervisory Committee.


CITES, which stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is a global agreement between governments to regulate or ban international trade in species under threat.   In the mid-20th century, governments were beginning to recognize that trade in some wild animals and plants had a devastating impact on those species. These species were being driven toward extinction through unsustainable use for food, fuel, medicine, and other purposes.  And while individual governments could control what happened within their borders, they did not have a way to address the impacts of international trade in these species. In 1973, 21 countries addressed this issue by signing the CITES agreement.

Conservation impacts

After four decades, CITES remains one of the cornerstones of international conservation. There are 183 member Parties and trade is regulated in more than 35,000 species. Representatives of CITES nations meet every two to three years at a Conference of the Parties to review progress and adjust the lists of protected species, which is grouped into three categories with different levels of protection:

Appendix I: Includes the world’s most endangered plants and animals, such as tigers and gorillas. International commercial trade in these species, or even parts of them, is completely banned, except in rare cases such as scientific research.

Appendix II: Contains species like hippopotamus and many corals that are not yet threatened with extinction, but which could become threatened if unlimited trade were allowed. Also included are “look-alike” species that closely resemble those already on the list for conservation reasons. Plants and animals in this category can be traded internationally, but there are strict rules.

Appendix III: Species whose trade is only regulated within a specific country can be placed on Appendix III if that country requires cooperation from other nations to help prevent exploitation. CITES also brings together law enforcement officers from wildlife authorities, national parks, customs, and police agencies to collaborate on efforts to combat wildlife crime targeted at animals such as elephants and rhinos.

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