GSJ Article
26 July 2013
Issue 35

Environment and Climate Change as Geopolitical Issues in the Asias: What Can Be Learned from the European Experience?

Branko Bošnjaković

University of Rijeka, Croatia
Formerly UN Economic Commission for Europe
Abstract: While the European Union’s environmental achievements have proved important the next major issue is the pan-European cooperation in the broader region covered by the UN Economic Commission for Europe. When improving security in Europe became a common geopolitical goal in the 1970s and 1980s, several conventions on transboundary environmental issues, including air, water, impact assessment, and industrial accidents were established. Beyond their technical implications and successes, such agreements have potential to prevent transboundary conflicts that are now opening to all UN member states. The lessons learned with transboundary agreements and negotiations as well as those regarding regional seas, such as the Baltic and Caspian, could be useful for cooperation in Asia. On climate change mitigation, Europe’s role tends to become marginalized in comparison with geopolitical actors like the big Asian economies and the US, which are less willing to come to an effective global agreement on greenhouse gases reduction.
Keywords: Europe/Asia, geopolitics, governance, pan-European cooperation, public participation, transboundary air/water/climate environment

The 1960s and the 1970s were a period of scientific and technical advances, and rapid growth of production. This growth was accompanied by an increasing consumption of natural resources and an unprecedented increase in pollution with gaseous, liquid and solid industrial wastes and consumption residues exerting negative effects on the environment and human health. The hazardous smog of 1952 and 1956 in London, which had taken the lives of 5,000 people were fresh in memory, and frequent smog in Los Angeles, Chicago, Tokyo and many other large cities brought widespread anxiety. The Minamata disease, a neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning, was first discovered in 1956. Then in 1962, a milestone book, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, documented detrimental effects of pesticides on the environment and accused the chemical industry of spreading disinformation, and public officials of accepting industry claims uncritically. At the same time, scientific reports on long-range transboundary dispersion of radioactivity submitted to the General Assembly of the UN laid the scientific grounds on which the Test Ban Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear testing in the atmosphere was negotiated and signed in 1963. In parallel, growing scientific evidence identified environmental and health effects of polluted air, water and soil. In 1967, Swedish scientist Svante Odén published the first widely discussed research report on damaging effects of acid rain on forests, waters and crops. This culminated in 1974 when scientists suggested for the first time that chlorofluorocarbons may be causing a thinning of the stratospheric ozone layer, a global environmental threat.

Citizens also started organising themselves in numerous associations all over the world. Radkau (2011:124) describes the time around 1970 with environment-related developments and events referred to as the “ecological revolution”. The Club of Rome published The Limits to Growth in 1972 that stressed the importance of the environment, and the essential links with population and energy. In the same year, the historical UN Conference on Human Environment was held in Stockholm. This led to the creation of government environment agencies in most countries of the world as well as setting up of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).  But it was the European Community that picked up, in the late 1970s and during the 1980s, the world leadership in environmental protection policy and legislation.

The European Community as World Environmental Leader

The immediate period after the Second World War experienced the gradual development of the European Community. Visionary statesmen, like Robert Schuman and Konrad Adenauer, conceived of Europe as a peace project based upon close economic cooperation. In 1951, six countries – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – signed a treaty to cooperate in running their coal and steel industries. The countries extended their cooperation to other economic sectors and established in 1957, under the Treaty of Rome, the European Economic Community (EEC).

However, environmental policy came in rather late and notably, environmental protection was not mentioned in the Treaty of Rome. In 1972, the European Community adopted its first Environment Action Programme based on the idea that the prevention is better than cure, and the “polluter pays” principle. The Community started building its body of environmental legislation with the adoption of several directives, e.g. on waste, bathing water and birds protection. In 1980, the key Environmental Impact Assessment Directive was adopted and after expanding to twelve member states, the Community regained momentum through the Single European Act of 1987 by devoting an entire section to environment policy.

The 1970s and 1980s witnessed a number of accidents that gave additional push to calls for environmental awareness and action. First, in 1976 an explosion occurred at a chemical plant near Seveso in Italy, whereby a toxic cloud containing dioxin contaminated a densely populated area. Then in 1982 the “Seveso” Directive was issued to prevent major industrial accidents with dangerous substances. Two years later, an accident involving chemicals of much higher gravity took place in Bhopal, India. With 5,000 short-term fatalities, and the number of long-term fatalities estimated as 135,000 (Radkau 2011:501), the Bhopal accident was the largest industrial accident in the world history at the time. In 1978, oil tanker Amoco Cadiz spilled 68 million gallons off the coast of France. One year later, a partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in the United States put the future of nuclear energy in question. For the nuclear industry, worse was still to come. In 1986, an uncontrolled chain reaction in a reactor in the Chernobyl power plant north of Kiev, Ukraine caused explosions which blowed the reactor’s lid off. More than thirty-one workers died instantly and about 135,000 people were evacuated from the surrounding area, leaving long-term fatalities. The Chernobyl accident reactivated anti-nuclear movements not only in Europe, but worldwide, and accelerated the disintegration tendencies in the Soviet Union (Radkau 2011:502). The collapse of communism across central and eastern Europe, symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, opened the door to German reunification and the extension of European Community.

The 1990s was the decade of international commitments to sustainable development and of the consolidation of the importance of environmental information. In 1990, the European Environment Agency was established to provide independent, reliable and comparable environmental information for decision-makers and the public. Three years later, the Maastricht Treaty went into force creating the European Union (EU). In 1995, the EU gained three new member states, namely, Austria, Finland and Sweden, that were  environmental leaders. More pioneering EU legislation included the Water Framework Directive (2000), and the Directive on “Strategic Environmental Assessment” (2001). However, energy security concerns, globalisation and terrorism often overshadowed environmental policy concerns.

In thirty-five years, EU’s environmental policy made huge strides. Initially, the development of a vast body of environmental legislation dealt mostly with technical standards. The EU has passed legislation aimed at improving the quality of water, tackling air and noise pollution, assuring the safety of chemicals, setting standards for waste disposal and protecting the EU’s native wildlife and plants. This legislation works when fully implemented and enforced, and without it our environment would look quite different.[1] Lead would still be being pumped into the air from cars fleet, chlorofluorocarbons would have further depleted the ozone layer, nitrogen oxide emissions from road transport would be ten times higher, and organisms in rivers, lakes and estuaries would still be choked by effluent, including the prospect of bathing in coastal waters polluted by sewage. Additionally, swathes of land would be eaten up by expanding landfills for waste, and waste incinerators would not be operating to strict standards.

Gradually, the spectrum of policy tools has broadened with the introduction of market-based instruments. Environmental concerns are increasingly being integrated into other policy areas, such as energy, agriculture and transport. In turn, this helps to prevent the problems at their source. The present EU sustainable development strategy provides the over-arching long-term framework, aiming at synergies between economic, social and environmental goals. The EU took environmental leadership globally.

Since 2000, ten countries of central and eastern Europe as well as Cyprus and Malta joined in 2004, bringing membership of the EU up to twenty-seven. The cost of compliance with EU environmental legislation for the new member states has been estimated at €100 billion, and EU funding covers 4% of this sum.[2] As many threats to the environment are global and should be tackled on an international scale, the EU’s commitment plays an important role in setting this agenda, and encouraging other countries to adopt similar measures. Environmental policy is one area where there is a great deal of public support for action at a Europe-wide level. But the state of environment is still far from ideal. The EU produces up to 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions and creates over two billion tons of waste a year. Concurrently, many Europeans fear that the cost of EU environmental regulation can undermine the competitiveness of EU businesses.

The environmental achievements of the European Community (and later with the EU) must be measured against the developments at the pan-European level. Around 1972, at the time of the Stockholm Conference, Europe within its geographic limits was divided, apart from a few non-aligned countries, into two power blocs (NATO and the Warsaw Pact) and basically three economic groups of countries: the European Economic Community (EEC[3]), the European Free Trade Association (EFTA[4]), and the majority of communist countries under the Soviet-controlled Council for Mutual Economic Asssistance (CMEA[5]). The only overarching organisation with pan-European character was the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), which embraced all European countries including the USA and Canada. The political and economic future of Europe as a whole, including its environment, was full of uncertainties. It is worth examining how the issue of transboundary air pollution brought various players to the negotiations table.

Transboundary Air Pollution: The Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP)

The 1970s and 1980s witnessed the constellation of two developments with historic dimensions. On the one hand, gradual political détente in the East-West conflict and on the other hand, growing scientific insight and public awareness with regard to environmental degradation and its consequences. Transboundary environmental issues introduced a new dimension, namely, the need to negotiate between sovereign states.

Talks have been mooted about a European security group since the 1950s as the Cold War prevented any substantial progress until the talks in Helsinki began in November 1972. The Soviet Union aimed to use these talks for cementing its control over the communist countries in Eastern Europe. Whereas, Western Europe saw them as a way to reduce the tension in the region, furthering economic cooperation and obtaining humanitarian improvement for the populations of the Communist bloc. The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) opened in Helsinki in 1973 with thirty-five states sending representatives. After the main working phase, the Helsinki Final Act was signed from July 30 to August 1, 1975. Rather than being a formal treaty, the CSCE Final Act represented a political commitment to build security and cooperation in Europe on the basis of its provisions. Signatories for the first time accepted that treatment of citizens within their borders was also a matter of legitimate international concern. This open process of the CSCE has often been given credit for helping build democracy in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, thus leading to the end of the Cold War.[6]

The Helsinki Final Act’s fifth part was devoted to cooperation on environmental protection. Specifically:

In 1976, the Government of the USSR suggested that a series of pan-European meetings and conferences aimed at putting into practice the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act should be organised within the UNECE framework at the highest ministerial level. A conference on environmental protection was included in this list. However, politicians of several Western countries, in connection with the violation of human rights in the USSR, suspected this suggestion to be a propaganda manoeuvre and rejected it during the next session of UNECE . . . [They] argued that practical cooperation should be organised only on ecological problems having the priority in all European countries . . . Searching for well-reasoned initiatives, Soviet experts [concluded] that the problem of acid rain could be considered the most promising field for practical cooperation.. The Institute of Applied Geophysics of the Hydrometeorological Service of the USSR proved . . . that transboundary deposition of acid rain in the European part of the USSR was several times greater than the corresponding deposition from Soviet sources to the West of the State boundary. Annual damage from acid rain to agriculture…was estimated to be more than $150 million (Kakebeeke et al. 2004:9).

During a visit to the USSR in 1978, the Norwegian Minister of Environmental Protection, Ms. Gro Brundtland, confirmed that acid rain from sources in other countries caused serious damage to fisheries in the lakes of Norway and Sweden, and called for a convention on the reduction of sulphur dioxide emissions. During the next session of the Senior Advisers to UNECE Governments on Environmental Problems several Western delegations expressed doubts about the validity of the hypothesis of transboundary character of acid rain. In response, delegations of Sweeden and Norway proved that the atmospheric deposition of sulphur dioxide over their territories exceeded national emissions by several times. At the end of 1978, these arguments were confirmed by the preliminary results of the Cooperative Programme for Monitoring and Evaluation of the Long-Range Transmission of Air Pollutants in Europe (EMEP). The objections of the Federal Republic of Germany during subsequent negotiations were seriously undermined by the Green Party, which criticized the Government pointing to the damages to forests from acid rain.

Intense, even arduous, negotiations at the end of 1978 and the beginning of 1979 resulted in the final compromise concerning the character of the Convention. There was agreement on a framework convention with clear statements of its final goal, urgent tasks, principles and fields of cooperation, mechanisms for the implementation of decisions and settlement of disputes. The particular measures aimed at reducing transboundary air pollution had to be determined later and fixed in separate protocols. Yet, at least some aspects had to be clearly stated in the Convention, including the need to obtain estimates of transboundary air pollution within the framework of EMEP. To ensure the participation of the USSR without violating secrecy demands, Soviet specialists declared their readiness to submit data on total national emissions and on the fluxes of air pollutants from Soviet sources crossing western borders (Kakebeeke et al. 2004:12).

While acid rain problems gave the initial impetus, it was agreed that the Convention should not be restricted to the emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxides ( and ). Other harmful substances in transboundary air fluxes, such as lead, mercury, other heavy metals, dioxins and persistent organic pollutants (POP) were also mentioned at the early stages of preparation.

The Soviet Union was the first country to ratify the Convention in 1980. Three years later it came into force and Norway, Finland and Sweden submitted a proposal for a concerted programme to reduce sulphur emissions by 30% by no later than by 1993. Political pressure increased not only in Germany, but also in several other Western countries. It was not forest damage alone that led Germany to take an active role in the abatement of long-range air pollution, but also the knowledge of technical solutions to the problem: flue gas desulphurization, a new technique developed in Germany, improved and applied in Japan and imported to Germany. Similar developments took place to purify car emissions with catalysts developed in Japan and the development of flue gas denitrification, both techniques became a basis for the later Protocol on   (Jost 2004:16).

Adopted in 1985[7], the Sulphur Protocol was the first substantive protocol with obligations to reduce national emissions and to abate long-range transboundary air pollution. Its merits were the following: the 30% flat-rate approach provided a clear basis for political negotiations, the Protocol was easy to verify, and the 30% reduction was seen as a first step in a direction of future reductions (Jost 2004:16).

It is not possible to understand the politics leading to the Convention by considering environmental policy goals alone: it only makes sense if the Cold War is brought into the context. The Helsinki Final Act, a fruit of détente, could be seen as a belated peace treaty after the Second World War and a recognition of geopolitical changes that took place in its aftermath. When the Soviet Union in 1975 proposed cooperation on the environment in UNECE, it was hardly because of its strong environmental views. And when Western and non-aligned governments responded favorably to the proposal, few of them were guided at the time by urgent environmental objectives. The environment was an area of cooperation that would pose little danger to the overall balance between the two power blocs and at the same time it could serve as the needed bridge or communication link between them (Björkbom 2004:21-22).

The next “window of opportunity” leading to the surprising signing of the Sulphur Protoco, needs some political explanation. The Soviet bloc countries were initially against the Convention. At the same time, the first Reagan administration’s confrontational policy was trying to get the upper hand in the West-East balance of power. The US was pressing for the deployment of Pershing II missiles in Western Europe to counter the SS-20 missiles on the other side of the Iron Curtain. This was met with fierce political reaction in the Federal Republic of Germany and elsewhere, particularly among left wing and “green” political groups, which were in general also in favour of environmental protection policies. When the US and UK reacted very negatively to the Nordic proposal on  emission reductions, the USSR might have seen an opportunity to sow division in the NATO stand on the nuclear issue by appealing to the anti-deployment public opinion through a changed though moderate stand on anti-air pollution measures in Europe. According to Björkbom (2004:23), a political settlement was reached in Munich in the summer of 1984 after a late evening consultation between the major powers from both sides of the Iron Curtain. Thereafter the negotiations proceeded in Geneva without too many obstructions and in July 1985 the Protocol was signed by all, including the USSR. The fact that the Soviet Union had by then got a new Secretary-General as head of the Communist Party, Mr. Gorbachev, might have played a role. His entrance into the political scene was the beginning of change in East-West relations that led to major upheavals in European geopolitics.

To what extent the obligations in the Sulphur Protocol pushed forward implementation is a matter to reflect upon. Many countries could implement their obligations by switching to nuclear power and nature gas electricity generation. Others were “helped” by the downturn in economic activity and industrial restructuring following the dissolution of the communist countries’ Council for Mutual Economic Asssistance. The UK’s initial resistance to the Protocol evaporated after the Government’s showdown against the coal miners’ union in 1986 and subsequent decisions that deregulated the nationalized energy industry. The process of establishing an international environmental agreement does not take place in isolation from the overall pattern of national developments and international relations, and these “external” factors strongly influence the process (Björkbom 2004:24).

As a complementary view on why it was not possible to agree on emission reductions in 1979 when six years later the Sulphur Protocol was adopted, Kakebeeke (2004:28) formulated prerequisites for successful negotiations:

  • Is the relevant environmental issue addressed at the appropriate geographical level?
  • Does the international community recognize the issue as warranting international action?
  • Is there a high level of international scientific consensus?
  • Is sufficient and accepted leadership available?
  • Compared to national measures, does international action add value?
  • Are measures to address the problem available and affordable?

The development and signing of the Convention was largely succesful because scientists, specialists and the general public in Europe and North America were fully aware of the need for cooperative efforts of all countries to solve urgent ecological problems. For the first time, the priority of common ecological interests was acknowledged to be superior to political disagreements. The Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) served as a bridge across the invisible cold-war front (Kakebeeke et al. 2004:13).

Achievements of CLRTAP

The key to success of CLRTAP was that it addressed problems in a realistic way by using sound science and techniques that led to significant improvements. Many of the lessons that can be drawn from these achievements are valid not only for air pollution, but also for other transboundary environmental issues.

Effects of air pollution: real and serious. The process that started in Europe in the 1960s was driven by concerns about deleterious effects of air pollution and the somewhat discouraging conclusion that no country could solve its problems alone. Initially it was the environmental effects on freshwaters, soils and forests that were the policy drivers and sulphur emissions were the prime target. Surprisingly, only later did the concern for human health emerge as a driving force for emission reduction schemes, something that led to subsequent protocols which addressed , volatile organic compounds (VOC), heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and, indirectly, small particles (Air 2010:4).  The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that some 800,000 premature deaths occur annually in the world due to urban air pollution (cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants) while 1.5 million deaths are attributed to outdoor air pollution in general, mostly ground-level ozone and small particles, i.e. 6,300 per day (Air 2010:6-7). Moreover, air pollution, particularly ozone, contributes to agricultural yield loss, and thus to the problem of starvation and general poverty.

One specific health issue is the combined effect of heat waves (the frequency of which increases through climate change) and high ozone levels. Recent studies suggest that the overall contribution of ozone to mortality in cities may range from 2.5% to 85% in periods of high temperature (Air 2010:25). The fact that carbon dioxide and air pollutants often derive from the same emission sources speaks in favour of coordinated approaches for the control of air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions: joint measures may lead to significant co-benefits for countries and regions.

Scientific approach, integrated assessment modelling and monitoring. Scientific progress provided strong incentives for remedial action (Air 2010:6). Whereas science progresses almost continuously, policy applications come in intervals with years between the successive steps. A telling story is the development of protocols under CLRTAP. In 1985, the first sulphur protocol was signed, and followed by protocols on (1988), VOC (1991), heavy metals and POPs, respectively (1998), and then the 1999 the Gothenburg protocol on sulphur, , ammonia and VOC (Air 2010:19).

Two interlinked fields of science have played decisive roles in the progress on policy regarding air pollution. Firstly, the critical loads approach is based on the notion that there are pollution thresholds for different receptors below which damage is thought not to occur. If deposition and/or concentration are higher than the critical loads/levels then the exceedance can be quantified. With that, negotiators have a benchmark against which to discuss emission reductions. Secondly, the integrated assessment modelling is a way to find the most cost-effective and environmentally sound manner to reduce exceedances over large areas and to attribute emission reductions to countries or regions where they will make the greatest contribution. Without these two inputs from science, negotiators would have found themselves in a much more difficult position when agreeing on emission reductions and other strategic commitments (Air 2010:20-21). Solid knowledge provides a good basis for building awareness and for influencing people’s attitudes and behaviour.

Started in 1977, the EMEP monitoring network was one of the first international environmental measurement networks set up in Europe. The long term nature has been important as it slowly evolved over more than 30 years along with the widening and changing of interests. Those results have been a crucial basis for environmental assessments and policy processes because EMEP data helped to understand the outcome of reductions done and the need for further abatement (Grennfelt et al. 2004).

The reality and significance of transboundary impacts. Information on atmospheric transport is indispensable for making progress. On the basis of emission inventories and meteorological conditions, models have become available which can calculate how much of a country’s own emissions fall within its territory and how much will settle somewhere else. Advanced modelling has indeed confirmed that 80-90% of sulphur and nitrogen deposition in Norway and Sweden derived from countries other than their own. To elucidate the significance of transboundary sulphur air pollution the following examples are based on calculations by EMEP for the year 2000. The main polluters of Kazakhstan are in order of importance: Russian Federation (222 hundred tons sulphur), Ukraine (146), Turkey (120), Kazakhstan (108), Romania (51), etc. For Sweden the main polluters are: Poland (276), Baltic Sea shipping (149), Germany (120), Sweden (112), United Kingdom (107), etc. The main polluters of the United Kingdom are: United Kingdom (1310), North Sea shipping (143), Northeast Atlantic shipping (74), Spain (72), France (70), and so on. The figures partly explain the different willingness of various countries to enter into far-reaching agreements on emission reductions since the benefits (and burdens) vary from country to country. A big receiver of transboundary pollution, such as Sweden, will naturally take another position than a big polluter, like the United Kingdom. A relevant point is pollution from shipping is that while land-based sources have already been controlled to a large extent, shipping now contributes to an increasing share of long-range pollution (Air 2010:39-44).

Effectiveness of policy interventions. The best documented emission trends were given to the EU by the European Environmental Agency (2011). Across the EU-27, the largest emission reduction has been achieved for the acidifying pollutant . Emissions in 2009 were 80% less than in 1990. The emission reductions across the EU-27 since 1990 have been achieved as a result of a combination of measures, including fuel-switching in energy-related sectors away from high sulphur-containing solid and liquid fuels to low sulphur fuels such as natural gas, the fitting of flue gas desulphurisation abatement technology in industrial facilities and the impact of several EU directives. Admittedly, a significant decrease in emissions (a reduction of 21% between 2008 and 2009) occurred as a result of the economic recession. Emissions of other key air pollutants also fell significantly since 1990, including of the three air pollutants primarily responsible for the formation of harmful ground-level ozone in the atmosphere: carbon monoxide (62% reduction), non-methane volatile organic compounds (55% reduction) and nitrogen oxides (44% reduction). Emission reductions have been achieved from the road transport sector for all three pollutants, primarily through legislative measures requiring abatement of vehicle tailpipe emissions.

As a whole, deposition and concentrations of targeted pollutants have decreased in Europe and North America and led to recovery of damaged ecosystems. The biological response is sluggish, but recovery is now being recorded in many ecosystems. Another example of the effectiveness of policy interventions is seen in the observed and predicted loss of life expectancy due to small particles from anthropogenic sources: life expectancy may increase by up to three years in the most affected areas. More importantly, people will be able to live longer, not only statistically, but above all in a healthier environment which provides a better quality of life (Air 2010:18).

The Pan-European Environmental Architecture: A Bridge to Asia

It was not only the success of CLRTAP and of the Sulphur Protocol that encouraged states to develop further environmental instruments, but the pan-European environmental scene was shattered when the Chernobyl nuclear accident occurred in April 1986. Whereas the Soviet economic top-down reform programme (perestroika) had been initiated by Gorbachev already before Chernobyl, the era of increased transparency (glasnost) started after the accident. That accident has definitively delegitimized the Soviet system of secrecy and cover-up of ecological disasters. It seems that the intended top-down reform ran out of control due to Chernobyl (Radkau 2011:509-510). At the same time, the achieved degree of détente was not enough for the populations of Soviet-controlled countries. Indeed, the wake-up call for more democracy and independence was unmistakeable in all Soviet satellite countries and even within the Soviet Union, in particular in the Baltic republics and the Ukraine. In such atmosphere of prospective transition and transformation, the time has come for far-reaching transboundary cooperation going beyond the air pollution issues.

New Enviromental Conventions

The main breakthrough occurred during the Meeting on the Protection of the Environment of the CSCE, held in Sofia, Bulgaria, from 16 October to 3 November 1989. The participating states recommended a number of agreements under the aegis of UNECE to cope with transboundary environmental issues. The implementation of these recommendations was to take place as soon as possible, bearing in mind that the results would be evaluated by the next Follow-up Meeting of the CSCE, to be held in Helsinki in 1992. Indeed, during the short period between February 1991 and March 1992, three important UNECE conventions were adopted: Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo, Finland, 25 February 1991), Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents (Helsinki, 17 March 1992), and the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Helsinki, 17 March 1992). In view of the role played by the CSCE in the initiation phase, it is not surprising that the UNECE conventions were supposed to have considerable potential in preventing conflicts and settling transboundary environmental disputes (Bošnjaković 2000).

These three new conventions were very different in character from CLRTAP. They were not intended to set detailed limiting values or emission reduction goals region-wide, but to establish frameworks for cooperative action, prevention of conflicts and dispute resolution with regard to possible transboundary environmental, including environmental health impacts. In view of the looming geopolitical changes in Central and Eastern Europe and the USSR (disintegration of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, and the emergence of new states), the number of transboundary issues – not necessarily environment related – were exploding.[8] Between 1990 and 1995, the UNECE membership increased from thirty-four to fifty-five countries, including twenty-seven countries in transition (CIT) from a centrally planned to a market economy. Nine of these[9] were also members of ESCAP (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) and can be considered geographically as part of Asia. Environmental legacies from the past were affecting in serious way these countries in transition, and in particular in the context of transboundary rivers (e.g. Danube and Niemen) and land-locked waters (e.g. the Aral, Caspian, Peipsi and Ohrid).

The rapid or even hasty adoption of these three conventions reflected the spirit of the time, represented positive political priorities within the increasingly influential EU with focus on environment, better information provision to the citizens and participation of the stakeholders in decision-making. However, it also marks the negative experiences symbolized by recent accidents world-wide in the nuclear industry (Chernobyl), chemical industry (Bhopal, Basel) and shipping (oil spills at sea). Both elements pointed strongly to the inclusion of numerous references to more transparency and public participation in all UNECE agreements, including conventions and protocols, adopted since 1990.

Public Participation and Transparency

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has proven to be a significant instrument for implementing and strengthening sustainable decision-making for the European Community. Within the UNECE region, the Espoo Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in the Transboundary Context was the first multilateral treaty to specify procedural rights and duties of Parties with regard to transboundary impacts of proposed activities. The Convention covers a range of seventeen groups[10] of activities to which the provisions apply and contains several references to public participation. In particular, it requires the concerned parties to ensure that the public of the affected party in the areas likely to be affected is informed of, and provided with possibilities for making comments on, or objections to the proposed activity.

It has been suggested that regional transboundary EIA agreements like the Espoo Convention largely reflect domestic EIA laws. “The main way that the agreements extend beyond the domestic laws is by ensuring that states apply EIA without extraterritorial discrimination” (Knox 2002:291). There has been much criticism about the disjuncture between EIA formal goals and national institutional arrangement. EIAs in many developing countries have been classified as secret or subjected to corruption, and often completely disregarded (Hironaka and Schofer 2002:224).

The principles of ensuring information and participation of the public came to full fruition when the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters was adopted in 1998 in Aarhus. The Aarhus Convention is a new kind of environmental agreement. It links environmental rights and human rights, acknowledges that we owe an obligation to future generations, establishes that sustainable development can be achieved only through the involvement of all stakeholders, links government accountability and environmental protection, and focuses on interactions between the public and public authorities in a democratic context[11].

The Convention is not only an environmental agreement, but it is also about government accountability, transparency and responsiveness. It grants the public rights and imposes on parties obligations regarding access to information and public participation and access to justice. The main thrust of the obligations contained in the Convention is towards public authorities, which are defined so as to cover governmental bodies from all sectors and at all levels (national, regional, local), and bodies performing public administrative functions. The Aarhus Convention is also intended to forge a new process for public participation in the negotiation and implementation of international agreements. Significantly, the Convention is open to accession by non-ECE countries, subject to approval of the meeting of the parties.

The challenge of implementing the Aarhus Convention in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) countries is formidable. “The first so-called pillar of access to information sets in place rights that directly contradict the fundamental secrecy of the former Soviet Union countries. Some officials’ reluctance to share environmental information may also be linked to the economic duress of the current transition period, where information may be an official’s only asset. The second pillar of public participation also poses difficulties for officials for whom the highest praise is to be considered a ´professional´. In their belief that no one knows better than they do, they are reluctant to spend time and resources to make decision-making transparent and to involve the public. The third pillar of access to justice breaks new ground for post-socialist countries still developing their judicial systems. Though several highly sophisticated NGOs have been successful in using courts, it remains difficult for an ordinary EECCA citizen to bring an environment-related legal action. Changing these attitudes and practices will be a long and troublesome process. The Aarhus Convention will not be truly implemented until openness, transparency and accountability in environmental decision-making become everyday habits” (Zaharchenko and Goldenman 2004:229-251).

Environmental Performance Reviews

Soon after the Dobřiš Assessment (Europe’s Environment 1995) had drawn a first overall picture of the state of the environment in Europe in 1993, the Environment Ministers decided that countries would be reviewed individually in much more detail. The aim was to examine not only these countries’ environmental conditions, but also the strategies, policies and tools that they used to manage the environment. The pattern to follow with the OECD Country Environmental Performance Review Programme was developed and gradually extended in cooperation with the UNECE to Central and Eastern Europe. Environmental performance reviews assess a country’s efforts to reduce its overall pollution burden, to manage its natural resources, and to integrate environmental and socio-economic policies. Since 1996, all Central, South-Eastern and Eastern Europe and Central Asia countries have been under review, including 15 of them even for the second time. The reviews have significantly contributed to achieve three main objectives. First, helping countries to improve their management of the environment by establishing baseline conditions and recommending better policy implementation and performance. Next, promoting continuous dialogue between UNECE member countries by sharing information about policies and experiences. And thirdly, stimulating greater involvement of the public in environmental discussions and decision-making.[12]

The pan-European environmental architecture came into existence due to a number of specific circumstances, including a strong tradition of democracy, rule of law and good governance in the UNECE region mainly dominated by Western member states. Additionally, a heterogeneous but strong environmental movement, politically influential through green parties, the geographic and political extension of the EU and its environmental policy into Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe helped as well. The prospects of extending this environmental architecture into the rest of Eurasia and the Pacific remain uncertain but not impossible.

Transboundary Waters: Rivers and Lakes

More than 150 major rivers and 50 large lakes in the UNECE region run along or straddle the border between two or more countries. Twenty European countries depend for more than 10% of their water resources on neighbouring countries and five countries draw 75% of their resources from upstream countries. UNECE member States are mostly aware of the need for cooperation when sharing the same water resources. This predominantly positive approach to the problem has been triggered, in no small measure, by the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, which 36 UNECE countries and the European Community have already ratified.[13]

The Convention is based on the understanding that water resources play an integral part in ecosystems as well as in human societies and economies. Its commitment to integrated water resources management replaces an earlier focus on localized sources of pollution and management of separate components of the ecosystem. This approach includes reasonable and equitable use of transboundary waters. The main and core obligation to the Riparian States, i.e. the parties bordering the same transboundary waters, is to enter on the basis of equality and reciprocity into bilateral or other arrangements, in order to define their mutual relations and conduct regarding the prevention, control and reduction of transboundary impacts. Such agreements must establish joint bodies, which cover well-defined catchment areas with main tasks to: (a) collect, compile and evaluate data on pollution sources; (b) elaborate joint monitoring; (c) establish emission limits for waste water and evaluate control programmes; (d) elaborate joint water-quality objectives; (e) establish warning and alarm procedures.

The work of the joint bodies specifically includes also the cooperation with coastal states, as well with the joint bodies established by coastal states for the protection of the marine environment directly affected by transboundary impact. The Riparian Parties must also ensure that information is made available to the public on water-quality objectives, permits used and conditions required to be met, and results of water and effluent sampling. The Convention contains provisions on the settlement of disputes, including the 2003 amendment “to allow accession by countries outside the UNECE region, thus inviting the rest of the world to use the Convention’s legal framework and to benefit from its experience. Once the amendment enters into force, this will be of particular importance for countries that border the UNECE region, such as Afghanistan, China and the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The Water Convention draws upon the long experience with cooperation models. In 1993, some 150 international bilateral or multilateral agreements existed in Europe and North America on the protection and use of transboundary waters such as for the river Rhine. The negotiations leading to international water-related agreements were analysed by Bošnjaković (2003). One striking example is environmental protection and restoration of the Danube river basin. The International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) was established under the Danube River Protection Convention (in effect since 22 October 1998), which follows very closely the provisions of the UNECE Water Convention and can thus be seen as its first “legitimate” daughter.

The first Assessment of Transboundary Rivers, Lakes and Groundwaters was published by UNECE (2007).  This in-depth report covers 140 transboundary rivers and 30 transboundary lakes in the European and Asian parts of the region, as well as 70 transboundary aquifers located in South-Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia. It diagnosed the hydrological regimes of these water bodies, pressure factors in their basins, their status and transboundary impact. The assessment pointed to major issues to be jointly dealt with in the future (UNECE 2007:2-3):

  • The effects of climate change are becoming visible in almost all of the analysed basins.
  • Water-sharing among countries often causes upstream-downstream conflicts related to water quantity[14]. In transboundary aquifers, abstraction for agriculture and drinking water supply may lead to overuse.
  • Organic pollution, nutrient pollution, pollution by hazardous substances and hydro-morphological alterations require action to improve the chemical and ecological status. Contamination of drinking water supplies – significant in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) – may cause water-related diseases (cholera, dysentery, coliform infections, viral hepatitis A and typhoid). Whereas pollution from diffuse sources (agriculture, urban areas) is a key concern in Western and Central Europe, action to decrease water pollution from point sources (municipal sewage treatment, old industrial installations) is of primary importance in basins in EECCA.
  • Plans for integrated water resources management (IWRM), including for land-use planning, need to be developed for almost all basins, but countries in the EECCA region face the biggest challenges to reduce transboundary impact.

A complementary report (UNECE 2009) analyzed the organization and activities of 23 joint bodies in the EECCA region by identifying best practices for institutional cooperation. Watercourse agreements and joint bodies can be divided into those covering an entire basin of a transboundary watercourse, part of a basin, only boundary waters, or cooperation within a particular project, programme or use of a transboundary watercourse. There is a clear trend in the international practice towards concluding watercourse agreements with the participation of all riparian states to implement the basin approach and ensure the application of IWRM principles (UNECE 2009:1). The report observes that there are cases in which watercourse agreements do not cover critical parts of basins. The Mekong River Commission was established in 1995 by the agreement of the Governments of Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Thailand and Vietnam. China, which contributes 16% of Mekong’s flow, and Myanmar do not participate in the 1995 Agreement (UNECE 2009:13).

Some states resist participating in agreements on transboundary watercourses, whether framework agreements or those for specific watercourses. Turkey, as one example, has signed neither the UNECE Water Convention nor the United Nations Convention of 1997. Turkey faces serious criticism for implementing large water diversion projects without consultations with Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic. The second example is China. Its decisions on water diversion and construction of water management facilities at the Irtysh and Ili have raised concerns in neighbouring countries and the environmental community. China participates in bilateral agreements. The Kazakhstan-China Commission approaches the discussion of these problems with extreme caution. Attempts by Kazakhstan to involve the Russian Federation in the settlement of the situation over the Irtysh are not supported by China, which insists on the bilateral format of the negotiations (UNECE 2009:15).

The report stresses the variety of existing joint commissions, which differ from one another in terms of the scope of application, competence, functions, powers and organizational structure. None of the existing joint bodies can be considered as an absolute model for others, since joint bodies are established in relation to specific waters in the context of real political, economic and social challenges. At the same time, principles of organization and activities enshrined in the UNECE Water Convention increase the efficiency of joint bodies and contribute to reaching a mature level in cooperation of the riparian states. They are based on practical experience in the management of transboundary water resources. With that in mind, many of the existing joint bodies in EECCA countries have weak institutional mechanisms. The report concludes that efforts and activities aimed at reaching new agreements and establishing new joint bodies between or with participation of the EECCA countries should be guided by following considerations (UNECE 2009:40-41):

  • Mutual trust among the riparian States and the motivation to cooperate are prerequisites for entering into agreements and establishing joint bodies. Even when such trust does not exist, cooperation may start with joint activities on technical issues or in specific areas of cooperation. When a basin-wide agreement by all riparian States cannot be reached, cooperation may start from an agreement and a joint body established by some riparian States with a view to attracting all riparian States to such cooperation in the future.
  • Conducting a joint study of a basin can identify the benefits of cooperation for all potential participants. The existing agreements and joint bodies need to be assessed, their shortcomings and strengths identified. A stakeholder analysis may ensure stakeholder participation in the negotiations, and subsequently their participation in a joint body’s activities. To secure a vital future for an agreement, it is important to involve in the negotiations representatives of the ministries of justice, foreign affairs, economy and finance.
  • International organizations can offer valuable expertise and become neutral facilitators of the dialogue between riparian States. Joint bodies existing elsewhere can offer wide expertise with regard to the organizational structure and mechanisms. Joint bodies created by coastal States can become important allies in establishing joint bodies for relevant watercourses.

Protection of the Marine Environment

The Regional Seas’ Programme is one of UNEP’s most significant achievements of the past 35 years[15]. This 1974 program addresses the accelerating degradation of oceans and coastal areas by engaging neighbouring countries in actions to protect their shared marine environment. Today, more than 143 countries participate in 13 programs, including those on the Black Sea and Mediterranean as relevant for Europe, and East Asian Seas, South Asian Seas and Northwest Pacific as relevant for Asia and the Pacific. Each of these programs functions through an action plan, mostly underpinned with a strong legal framework in the form of a regional Convention. There are also several partner programs e.g. for the Arctic, Baltic Sea, Caspian and North-East Atlantic.

The UNECE Water Convention emphasises the cooperation of river basin joint bodies with the joint bodies established by coastal states for the protection of the marine environment directly affected by transboundary impact (UNECE 2009:37). As an example, the Commission on the Protection of the Black Sea Against Pollution, and the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River have developed close cooperation. Both are members of the Danube Black Sea Task Force set up as a 2001 platform for cooperation between international financing institutions, donors and countries of the region to ensure the protection of water and water-related ecosystems in the Danube and the Black Sea. Another example is that of the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine (ICPR[16]) and the OSPAR[17] Commission, which promotes international cooperation under the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (1992). The two Commissions grant each other observer status.

Of particular interest is the protection of marine environment in sensitive landlocked water bodies like the Caspian, or semi-closed seas as the Baltic Sea. For the first time ever, all the sources of pollution around an entire sea were made subject to a single convention, signed in 1974 by the then seven Baltic coastal states. The 1974 Convention entered into force on May 3, 1980. In the light of political changes, and developments in international, environmental and maritime law, a modified Convention was signed in 1992 by all the states bordering on the Baltic Sea, and the European Community, and entered into force in 2000. The Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area[18] (Helsinki Convention) covers the whole of the Baltic Sea area, including inland waters as well as the water of the sea itself and the sea-bed. Measures are taken in the whole catchment area of the Baltic Sea to reduce land-based pollution, which is both a unique and pioneering approach. The present contracting parties are Denmark, Estonia, European Community, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden.

In retrospect, it has been argued that the Cold War politics affected in several ways negotiations and contents of the 1974 Helsinki Convention. According to Räsänen and Laakkonen (2007:229-236), the Soviet Union used the emerging international environmental issues as a new tool of power politics. But what counts are tangible results achieved by the governing body of the Helsinki Commission, known as HELCOM with a “vision for the future is a healthy Baltic Sea environment with diverse biological components functioning in balance, resulting in a good ecological status and supporting a wide range of sustainable economic and social activities.” HELCOM develops common objectives and actions,  provides information about the marine environment, and the protective measures, develops recommendations,  ensures that environmental standards are fully implemented, and coordinates multilateral response in case of major maritime incidents. Although the status of biodiversity appears not to be satisfactory in many parts of the Baltic Sea, HELCOM has been successful in reducing the inputs of nitrogen and especially phosphorus. During the decade from 1990 to 2006, the direct point-source inputs of phosphorus and nitrogen decreased by 45% and 30%, respectively (Ecosystem Health 2007).[19]

There is a very different picture around the Caspian, a border area between Europe and Asia of geopolitical importance with considerable security challenges (Environment and Security 2008). In the Eastern Caspian region, environment and security are strongly linked.

The Eastern Caspian region is well endowed with oil and gas resources. Growing demand for energy, from Western (EU, USA) and Asian markets (China, India) have encouraged competition, making this part of the world the nub of the “New Great Game.” Annually thousands of tons of petroleum hydrocarbons are discharged into the Caspian Sea by the Volga River alone from land-based sources. Rivers draining into the Caspian Sea carry more than 50% of total pollution. High concentrations of phenols and oil-products, which damage biodiversity are already being observed in the northern part of the Caspian (Environment and Security 2008:43).

Construction and operation of military-industrial facilities and testing sites activities during the Cold War arms race provided environmental impact. In Kazakhstan, large-scale testing ranges stretching for hundreds of kilometers, polluted steppes with rocket fuel and radioactivity, making agricultural use of land difficult or impossible (Environment and Security 2008:21-50).

All provinces in the eastern Caspian region suffer from a shortage of good-quality freshwater. The Ural River, the second largest watercourse in the whole Caspian region after the Volga River, is heavily polluted. Inadequate access to water reinforces poverty in rural areas and a significant proportion of the population drinks water of insufficient quality (Environment and Security 2008:55-57).

Intensive fishing since the 1950s, and unsustainable fishery practices rapidly depleted fish stocks. The catch of sturgeon, the main commercial fish of the Caspian Sea, has dropped steadily from 16,000 tons in 1981, through 8.000 tons in 1991, to less than 1,000 tons in the 2000s. But fishing remains an important factor in the survival of the coastal population of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. A stable, healthy environment plays a critical role for the livelihoods of coastal communities (Environment and Security 2008:59).

Caspian coastal regions are exposed to considerable fluctuations in sea level, which has fallen and risen, many times in the past. Rising sea levels and storm surges flood vast areas containing oil wells and infrastructure, increase pollution and damage scarce farmland. The main factor affecting the sea level is believed to be the changing climatic conditions, especially in the Volga river basin making up 80% of the water in the sea (Environment and Security 2008:62).

One key geopolitical question is whether the Caspian should be considered a sea or a lake. The answer to this question has considerable implications for use of the resources of both the Caspian surface waters and its sea-bed. If the Caspian counts as a sea then the UN Law of the Sea would be the applicable body of law. In this case, each littoral state would be allotted 12 nautical miles of territorial waters as well as an exclusive economic zone. From 1921 to 1991, the Caspian was considered a lake, and its waters were consequently divided by extensions of land borderlines by consensus of the bordering states, Iran and the USSR. With the break-up of the Soviet Union, there were now five sovereign states (Azerbaijan, Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan as well as Iran) with an interest in the Caspian’s resources. The countries are still negotiating on the legal status of the Caspian but an overarching agreement has still to be reached. By ratifying the Framework Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea (Tehran Convention) that entered into force in 2006, the signatories – all five bordering states – signalled that they are willing to search for common strategies to protect the Caspian environment (Environment and Security 2008:26).

Political stability and security in the larger Caspian basin will be of paramount importance for further development of the region. Caspian Sea states should further develop trust and confidence-building measures that ultimately lead to greater regional cooperation.

Climate Change Policy in Europe and Asia: Mitigation vs. Adaptation

Mitigation, i.e. emissions reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG), in response to climate change cannot be effective if it is not organized globally. Stabilizing the climate warming near 2.0°C would require a global target of 50% emissions reductions for carbon dioxide  (or, for GHG, the equivalent ) by 2050. Currently global emission flows are around 40 – 45 billion tons of  each year (Hepburn and Stern 2009:36-57), corresponding to average per capita emissions of seven tons. Reducing aggregate emissions by 50% by 2050 will require per capita emissions to be around two tons since the world population will be around nine billion by 2050. Even if emissions in currently rich countries were to fall to zero, people in currently poor countries will still need to limit emissions to not more than 2-2.5 tons, because eight billion of the global population will live in these countries. This basic arithmetic shows that the rapidly developing countries (including China and India) must be at the centre of any effective global deal. The USA, Canada, and Australia emit around 20 tons of  per capita, Europe and Japan around 10 tons, China around 5 tons, and India around 2 tons, while most of sub-Saharan Africa emits much less than 1 ton. At current emissions, and assuming the equity principle, the US, Australia, and Canada would need a reduction of 90% by 2050 to achieve emissions at the global average of 2 tons, Europe and Japan would need a downsizing of 80%. Even China would need an emissions reduction from the present level by 60%. This explains why most countries hesitate to commit themselves to the consequences of a global 50% reduction by 2050.

The Kyoto Protocol  of 1997[20] introduced several mechanisms to achieve mitigation, the most important one being the cap-and-trade mechanism. This mechanism allows “industrialised” countries (as defined in Annex 1 to the Protocol) to buy emission permits from other parties to help meet domestic emission reduction targets. Despite the enormous effort and controversy in agreeing, ratifying and implementing the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol has proved at best only partly successful in controlling worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases. “Industrialised” countries cover less than 30% of global emissions, and if they achieve the goal set, namely 5.2% reduction of their emissions between 1990 and 2012, this would be less than modest. It would contribute only about 1.5% reduction to global emissions over a period of more than 20 years, which is less than the actual annual increase during the same period. Even more important, no binding caps are imposed on big emitters USA (no ratification) and on China and India. While the climate summits in Copenhagen (2009), Cancún (2010) and Durban (2011) did not lead to an agreement on legally binding national reduction limits, the real climate continues to heat up. In Durban, the 195 parties to UNFCCC agreed at least on a roadmap for drawing up a legal framework by 2015 and making it operational by 2020. This new regime would see the burden of cutting emission shared by all countries, even if wealthier ones would still be expected to do much more than poorer countries.[21] The outcomes of international processes are driven by national politics, not vice versa.

The impact of a changing climate are already being felt with more droughts, floods,  strong storms, and heat waves. Even stabilizing the global warming near 2.0°C will require substantial adaptation. Since the negotiations have not achieved a stringent, binding agreement on emission reduction, and the two most important emitter countries – the US and China – show few signs of being willing to substantially give in. The world must get ready for a likely global warming going considerably beyond the presumably feasible limit of 2 degrees. By century’s end, it might lead up to 5°C above preindustrial levels and to a vastly different world from today with more extreme weather events, most ecosystems stressed and changing, many species doomed to extinction, and whole island nations threatened by inundation (World Bank 2010:2).[22] Either path will force all countries to face the consequences and develop adaptation policies and measures with regard to climatic changes, but the consequences may be very different from country to country. In fact, each player will estimate and weigh the economic, political and social costs (or perceived gains) of the evolving climate change. This brings a major geopolitical issue in the picture. Not only unequal regional distribution of the overall consequences of global warming, but also widely differring vulnerabilities and perceived abilities to cope with these consequences.

Vulnerability is a combination of impact and capacity to adapt. Countries of the north are generally less vulnerable than those of the South, even where impacts are potentially serious. The Netherlands, with large parts of the country under sea level depend on major coastal engineering structures such as dykes and sluices for their safety, and sea level rise is a serious threat to address. However the Dutch have the knowledge, the institutions, the technology and the financial resources to cope with that. Another low lying country, Bangladesh, were it to be affected by a combination of sea level rise, increased floods and decreased water flows from the upper Ganges-Brahmaputra River Basin, does not have the capacity to address these changes.

In the coastal zones, three options are often mentioned: protect, adapt or relocate. Hydro-meteorological records and climate projections provide abundant evidence that water resources are vulnerable and can be strongly affected by climate change with wide-ranging consequences for human societies and ecosystems. Since water is central to many different sectors that directly depend on water being available and of high quality, water management, as essential part of governance can limit or enhance adaptation of water-related sectors. Yet, it is the overall quality of governance which determines in the first place the resilience vis-à-vis natural and man-made disasters in terms of prevention, preparedness for and response to catastrophic developments. This is evident in three recent examples: the 2005 Katrina disaster in the USA, the unprecedented catastrophic forest fires in Russia in 2010, and the floods in Pakistan in the same year. In all three cases, the measure of disaster was mainly caused by mismanagement.[23] Poor quality of regulations, planning, and emergency response as well as corruption can aggravate crises that will almost certainly increase as a result of climate change.

Main Players

In the present article, the positions with regard to climate change of the most important Eurasian governmental players – the EU, Russia, China, and India – are analyzed. The European Union climate change policy[24] with its 20-20-20 targets is one of the most ambitious in the world. In 2007, EU leaders agreed on climate and energy targets to be met by 2020, including a reduction in EU GHG emissions of more than 20% below 1990 levels, 20% of energy consumption to come from renewable resources, and a 20% reduction in primary energy use compared with projected levels by improving energy efficiency. These targets resulted in a “climate and energy package” that were adopted as binding legislation in 2009 with the Emissions Trading System (ETS) as the key tool to cut emissions. ETS covers only a smaller part of its GHG emissions. ETS showed that trading in GHG emissions is possible, but selling the concept has been less successful and hope for OECD-wide carbon market is still far away. On top of its design weaknesses, ETS has been an open door for crime. Europol estimated 90% of the market volume of emissions traded in some countries could be result of tax fraud, costing governments more than 5 billion €.[25] Most significantly, EU ETS on its own is globally irrelevant: it covers about 2 billion tons emissions, i.e. around 5% of the overall global GHG emissions: reducing them by 20% means a global emissions reduction by 1% only.

Most European politicians agree that achieving emission cuts of 80-95% below 1990 levels by 2050 requires a process of decarbonizing their economies. However they are deeply split on the roles of nuclear energy and “clean coal.” Whereas France sticks to nuclear as an important option, Germany aims to opt out completely. National policies on renewables and low-carbon technologies look like a mishmash of support mechanisms, from feed-in tariffs to traded permits for renewables, and widely varying levels of market penetration, e.g. for photovoltaic electricity. The most important underlying reason for not coping effectively with climate change is the still too low price for fossile energy. Other important factors limit short- and medium-term introduction of renewables. Variable power generation from solar and wind requires costly development and installation of huge storage capacities, interconnections and smart grids. In densely populated parts of Europe, space for solar, wind, biofuels is limited due to competition with other needs (e.g. for agriculture, biodiversity, recreation), and because of public resistance.[26] This may reinforce the tendency to outsource unsustainable effects by switching to the harvesting of solar and wind energy abroad (e.g. in North Africa). Given the importance it attaches to historical responsibility and development aid, the EU could become a possible bridge between developed and developing countries. The EU could exercise leadership by pursuing a global level pricing of carbon. For example, it could impose a tax on the content of CO₂ of all goods imported into the EU from countries that do not have their cap-and-trade system or equivalent measures (Gros and Egenhofer 2010). However, such a tariff is likely to face fierce resistance from countries whose economies depend on exports of gas and oil, like Russia, and on goods, China and India.

At the pan-European level, Russia has major significance as there is a clear divergence of geopolitical interests with regard to climate change policy. Russia has various reasons to believe it will be a geopolitical winner of climate change and has no problems to comply with Kyoto Protocol due to the base line year 1990 that was followed by a collapse of its obsolete industry. Moreover, Russia expects that climate change may increase its agricultural yields and expand its ability to enhance and modernize its agricultural food production and exports. Climate warming may also increase its ability to explore and exploit fossile energy resources in Siberia and in the Arctic Ocean. Russia, already heavily dependent on its exports of oil and gas, has not hesitated to use these resources at the same time as a strategic weapon in the power play with its neighbours[27] during a shortage of gas in the world markets. Russia, whose élite is heavily dependent on and personally involved in the main fossil-fuel industries shows little interest in stopping to earn money by cutting gas and oil supplies to its energy-hungry neighbours. At the same time, Russia increasingly thinks of itself as also an Asian nation. When President Medvedev chose Kazakhstan and China as his first official foreign visits, he stated: “Russian-Chinese cooperation has today emerged as a key factor in international security, without which it is impossible for the international community to take major decisions”.[28] Vladimir Putin is pursuing a project to build a “Eurasian economic union” by 2013 (Buckley 2011) and there are few signs that such a union will pursue vigorous climate change policies.

With China’s meteoric rise as an economic super-power it is working toward creating a major geo-economic shift that will help it secure a supply of various strategic essentials, including energy, food and diverse industrial raw materials. Sustained economic growth of around or more than 10% has been one of the root causes for China’s growing contribution to world emissions of GHG. China’s elite is heavily reliant on fast GDP growth based on energy-intensive industries to retain power. Several counteracting factors may slow down this trend (Helm 2009:32-33). First, a much lower growth could be caused by a shrinking world demand due to significant adjustment in exchange rates or erosion of China’s competitive advantages, such as cheap land and cheap labour. A second possibility is that an oil-price shock may disproportionately affect an energy-intensive China. Its strategic responses to higher oil prices include a scramble for resources, notably in Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East, and further exploitation of coal reserves. Lastly, a political implosion as part of a revolt against the communist party oligarchy and authoritarian state power remains unlikely as long as the attraction of high consumption keeps the wider population calm. None of these possibilities is likely to derail China’s economy in such a way as to offset projected emissions growth, at least in the medium term until 2030 (Helm 2009:32-33).

However, one important risk remains with environmental degradation caused not only due to climate change, but by water pollution and scarcity. This may lead to a collapse of economic growth, massive health hazards and ensuing popular unrest. A recent report by UNDP (2010:99-100) concluded that if the negative impacts of climate change and environmental degradation are not adequately addressed in China there is a danger that three decades of social and economic achievements may be reversed. Most energy-consuming assets needed between now and 2020 have yet to be built. As urbanization rate grows, the country will need to introduce and enforce strict standards of energy efficiency for building and electronic appliances, reducing carbon emission from the residential sector. It will also need to vigorously develop public mass transportation to prevent a massive increase in energy demand and carbon emissions from the transport sector. The low carbon model may bring temporary risks such as job losses, higher prices and fiscal revenue shortfalls. Advantages might include long lasting green job opportunities, greater competitiveness in new technology, technological innovation, improved standing in the world, and reduced harm to human health along with the protection of vital ecosystems. The UNDP (2010) China report calls for the introduction of a cap and trade system based on a national carbon intensity target and an enhanced system of monitoring and enforcement.

Can climate-change policies facilitate a benign decarbonisation of the Chinese, Indian, and other rapidly developing economies over the next two decades? The central challenge of future negotiations is to achieve a significant and rapid reduction in emissions against a sharply rising trend. Sanwal (2011:1-4) praised China for adopting green growth strategy. Renewables constituted already 9% of the total primary energy mix in 2009 (Xie Zhenhua 2010), and are planned to reach 15% by 2020. China’s CO₂ intensity (CO₂ emission per unit GDP) is being reduced annually by 3%, an impressive achievement (Flückiger and Schwab 2010:113), but it should be seen in the perspective of its even larger average 8% to 10% annual growth of GDP during the last 30 years. This means that unless there will be a significant slowing down of economic growth[29] there still remains an annual growth of CO₂ emissions of 5% – 7%, an awe-inspiring number. These huge emissions are mainly caused by burning of coal: China produces 43% of global coal consumption, mostly for domestic use. Each week two new 500 MW coal power plants are being built[30] to cope with the still ongoing electricity demand growth of 4.5%.

Despite their presently low energy consumption and emissions per capita even less developed countries will dominate much of the future growth in total energy consumption and CO₂ emissions (World Bank 2010:194). The concept of dichotomy between “industrialised” and developing countries under the Kyoto Protocol has become unrealistic, divisive, anachronistic and ineffective since the so-called developing countries given a free pass under Kyoto are now responsible for as much as 58% of global emissions. Rapidly developing economies like China, oil-rich Gulf monarchies, or the poorest African countries are neither in the same league nor do they necessarily share identical interests. BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) are united in their desire to end the economic dominance of the West. At the same time, they are divided by political concepts and by rivalries (van Staden 2011:177-181). Some of the geographic groupings of developing countries articulate common concerns and develop joint positions, especially if they are menaced by the same climate-linked risks like the hurricanes in the Caribbean. However, there are intrinsic divisions within these groups because of varying vulnerabilities with respect to climate change.

Interventions of outside powers that wish to increase their influence in a specific region such as Africa or in the Pacific may add to tensions. In general Western donors impose conditionalities concerning good governance, respect for human rights, democracy and independent justice. China does not impose this type of conditionality because its primary goal is to win the trust of developing countries and gain access to their resources. China’s position is that negotiating parties should adhere to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities so as to achieve equitable development globally (Xien Zhenhua 2010). A 2010 workshop (FIELD 2010) concluded that conditionalities and distrust related to assistance from developed countries are strengthening the trend towards closer links between Africa and China. In fact, the summit in Durban witnessed a renversement des alliances. It was the EU which appeared on the scene united and determined, and succeeded to forge common position with the majority of the least developed countries as well as two important emerging economies, Brazil and South Africa. Their strong support for the EU’s proposals made it much harder for the Indians and Chinese to decry them as a developed-world plot against the poor and helpless.[31]

China and India share still a characteristic of developing countries with the very low standard of living of their rural populations. According to Kant (2010), the Director of India’s Institute of Green Economy, there were many arguments why China and India should stick together on tackling climate change. Where does India really stand in relation to China? China has overtaken the US as the largest emitter of GHG[32] while India is the fifth largest. Yet, India’s emissions are just about 1.5 tons per capita compared to a stable 20 tons in the US while China’s are roughly 5 tons and rising rapidly. Both have large reserves of coal to meet the demand for another 50 years and both are competing around the world to access secure oil supplies over a long time horizon. The similarities of large aggregate emissions, large populations, and endless demand for energy had persuaded some to put much faith in a common China-India strategy in seeking a fair deal in climate change negotiations. But similarities appear far fewer than the mismatch. In slowing down the growth of emissions, China is relying on its evident demographic success in curbing its population growth drastically without parallel outside the developed world. China is adding two nuclear reactors per year and staying in the forefront of R&D in nuclear technology and nuclear sciences. China has been expanding its forest cover relentlessly for the past several decades, at a phenomenal 4.1 million ha or 2.2% per year, with a sequestration rate of  800 Mt of CO2/a.

In contrast, India has no population growth reduction program. In removing carbon from the atmosphere, India is not in the same league. The annual sequestration is 38 Mt, with an annual increment of only 0.6%. On top of these sharp differences[33], the central cause for divergence in the Chinese and Indian approaches lies in what these two countries really want and fear from climate negotiations. China’s one great fear is the very real possibility of imposition of carbon tax linked to production linked emissions and on emissions in shipping of both the raw material and of finished products. For a country that sources a large part of its raw material from across the world to manufacture for consumers everywhere, this would be disastrous. China’s negotiation strategies should thus essentially focus on preventing developed countries from forming carbon barriers around their economies. India’s dependence on exports is much lower and its exports are also less energy-intensive so carbon tax in not only less worrisome, but it might actually make India’s exports more competitive by creating a level playing field. According to Kant (2010), India on a low-carbon path is not possible because of deterrent costs unless it is backed by massive financial support and very liberal technology transfer.

Both China and the US seemed to use the climate negotiations in their pursuit of dominance in the world as the US wants to preserve its status and China seeks to overthrow it.[34] In view of this constellation, it is not surprising that the Durban roadmap for a new treaty was achieved only against strong objections not only from the USA, but also from the biggest developing-country polluters, India and China.

Asia: Learning from Europe?

Which successful elements of the European approaches to environmental protection could find applicability in Asian countries? One important factor in this regard is the fact that at the pan-European level there are UNECE and OSCE, which are environmentally relevant organizations that embraced a number of newly independent Asian nations. Since both organizations included the USA and Canada as their members they could be considered, to some extent, as bridges between three continents. On the other hand, Asian countries have been following their own economic and political dynamics with corresponding consequences for the environment in the case of climate change. The present chapter concentrates on three key issues: transboundary air pollution, transboundary waters, and public participation.

The Convention on Long-range Transport of Air pollution (CLRTAP) cannot be seen as a simple blueprint for other regions of the world. From its very inception, this treaty enjoyed comparative advantages due to relative pan-European homogeneity regarding economic and social matters in spite of the deep East-West divide (Air 2010:4-5). It also benefited from the politically recognized organizational support of the UNECE, and from strong links with European Union policies. The specificities of the UNECE region must, however, not deter negotiators in other parts of the world from making use of the European experience as they strive towards advancing multilateral environmental action in their particular regions.

It must be recognized that not only transboundary concerns drive policy development, but also local and national concerns. The effects-based approach, of which the protection of human health and the environment is the prime objective, is useful on all geographical scales. In a strictly national context it also benefits from international cooperation on exchange of information, standard setting, guidelines, reporting and so on. As a matter of fact, comprehensive arrangements on the international scale will ideally trickle down to national programmes, including development of laws and regulations applicable to each individual country.

While acid rain was the initial trigger for action in Europe in the 1970s and 1980s, the risk for acidification has been judged to be of less general importance in Africa and Asia. However, areas in India and China do suffer from acid rain and a recent estimate by China’s Environmental Protection Agency suggests that annual loss in China due to acid rain impact on forestry and agriculture amounts to USD 13.25 billion, as quoted in Air (2010:11). This calls for continued vigilance regarding acid rain in sensitive areas of Asia and beyond.

Shared international responsibility is now becoming increasingly recognized worldwide.  A case in point is Asia and the Pacific. While the ultimate goal may be the adoption of legally-binding agreements on emission control, as exemplified by CLRTAP, a realistic step-by-step approach has been employed. Building on existing sub-regional programs and networks, the UNEP Regional Resource Centre for Asia and the Pacific has developed a joint plan for action for the years 2010-2015. Some 60 countries in the region have adopted the plan. The Joint Plan is a product of the Joint Forum on Atmospheric Environment in Asia and the Pacific (UNEP 2010). It attempts to facilitate action-oriented progress of individual countries but also of existing, independent sub-regional networks, such as the Acid Deposition Monitoring Network in East Asia (EANET) (13 countries), the Malé Declaration on Control and Prevention of Air Pollution and its Likely Transboundary Effects for South Asia (8 countries), the Transboundary Haze Agreement under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (10 countries), the Central Asia Environment Convention (5 countries) and the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (25 countries). These recent sub-regional initiatives have emerged through natural processes and were fuelled by administrative links established early on (Nordberg 2011).

The effects-driven ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution was concluded to curb emissions from biomass burning, such as forest fires. In the late 1990s, an environmental crisis unfolded in Southeast Asia caused by widespread land clearance via open forest burning in many countries, mainly in Sumatra, Borneo and the Malay Peninsula. Most of the smoke came from oil palm plantations which used burning instead of expensive heavy equipment to clear land. Raging forest fires in Indonesia during 1997 were particularly horrifc and sent a pall of small particle pollution over the region for several weeks at an estimated cost of almost US $10 billion as well as people’s health. Due to the prevalent monsoon winds, the most affected countries were Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Brunei (Air 2010:124).

The participating countries agreed from the start to find an instrument stipulating that legal, administrative and technical measures must be taken to reduce pollution. All ten ASEAN countries, forming a logical and well delineated group of countries concerned with the haze problem, took part in the negotiations and the agreement was adopted and signed in 2002. The speed with which it was prepared and concluded was encouraging since it indicated a concerted determination to take action. In 2003, the agreement entered into force for the ratifying countries when the required six ratifications had been launched by governments. The agreement contains provisions for monitoring, assessment and prevention, technical cooperation, scientific research, mechanisms for coordination and lines of communication as well as simplified customs and immigration procedures for disaster relief. More specifically, it provides for cooperation on the development and implementation of concrete measures to prevent and monitor transboundary haze pollution, early warning systems and mutual disaster assistance. Additionally, it calls for the establishment of an ASEAN Coordinating Centre on the Control of Transboundary Haze Pollution.[35]

In line with the provisions of the agreement, a Regional Action Plan was prepared with numerous detailed guidelines and other documents. A Haze Technical Task Force meets twice a year within an established cooperative scheme. Progress towards curbing haze from biomass burning has, however, been modest and serious haze episodes have been recorded after entry into force of the agreement. The obstacles to significant progress may partly rest with the structure and priorities of ASEAN as a political/technical body. However, the less than satisfactory implementation record is mainly caused by Indonesia’s current decision not to ratify and implement the instrument. Thus, the provisions of the agreement are not legally binding for the country which is perceived as being by far the greatest contributor to haze in Southeast Asia. Another obstacle to progress is the lack of enforcement and liability clauses in the agreement. An envisaged future revision of the instrument should address the weaknesses and quantify required emission reductions based on assessment of effects and damage, including costs for the whole region (Air 2010:125-126).

The ASEAN Haze Agreement is the only one that contains stipulations for concrete emission reductions as the other arrangements so far have concentrated on monitoring, reporting and assessments (Nordberg 2011). Signficantly, all ongoing initiatives in Asia make reference to relevant features of CLRTAP and links are being established to improve both science and policy. EANET, the Malé Declaration and the ASEAN Haze Agreement have many reasons not only to further link up with each other but also to seek to incorporate more countries into the respective schemes. Initiatives such as EANET and the Malé Declaration which have their secretariats within the same body (AIT/UNEP RRC.AP[36] in Bangkok) may profit from even closer links with each other by sharing information on monitoring, methodology and policy development (Air 2010:95-97).

Whereas progress toward cooperative action on reducing transboundary air pollution in South-East Asia is getting visible, the corresponding situation on transboundary waters is still in an embryonic stage of development. One reason for that may be that the management and protection of transboundary waters, be it river basins or regional seas, is much more prone to territorial disputes and claims concerning much sought-after resources mean the unwillingness of several Asian countries to participate in agreements on transboundary watercourses. Another case in point is the South-China Sea, together with its tributaries.

The South China Sea is a strategic body of water surrounded by nations that are currently at the helm of industrialization and rapid economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region. Bordered by China to the north, the Philippines to the east; Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei to the south; Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to the west; the South China Sea has always been central to issues of economic and political stability in Southeast Asia and adjacent regions. Today, it is central to defining environmental sustainability and food security for its coastal nations. The coastal sub-regions are home to 270,000,000 people or 5% of the world’s population. About 122 major rivers drain 2.5 million km2 of catchment area and deliver materials, nutrients and pollutants to the South China Sea (Talaue 2000:1).

Wastes from domestic, agricultural, and industrial sources, along with sediments and solid wastes are the major sources of pollutants that impinge on both freshwater and coastal systems in the seven countries. Land-based sources play a major role in both inland and coastal pollution. Ship-based sources contribute relatively small amounts, but may have severe impacts when large volumes are released such as during major oil spills (Talaue 2000:51-52).

Tributary river systems of the South-China Sea coastal countries, with the exception of Cambodia and Malaysia, are moderately to heavily polluted using standard water quality parameters. This is especially evident in rivers running through densely populated urban areas of China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. The mouths of these rivers are pollution hot spots, and mitigation at the source end from both point and diffuse sources will have to be dealt with (Talaue 2000:65).

The UNEP/GEF project “Reversing environmental degradation trends in the South China Sea and Gulf of Thailand” harvested technical and economic insight in the patterns of environmental degradation. Within this the Regional Task Force on Legal Matters was given the responsibility to review national legislation applicable to coastal habitats, and the obligations of member states to co-operate regionally that derived from various global environmental conventions. The conclusion was that existing regional co-operative mechanisms are not adequate to deal with transboundary environmental problems in the South China Sea and that a framework for co-operation in the management of the marine environment of the South China Sea and Gulf of Thailand should be developed based on four “legs”:  Principles and Policies; Regional Strategic Action Programme; Sub-regional and Bilateral Agreements; and Existing National Action Plans (Pernetta 2009).

Another research report, for example, addressed the need of integrated water resource management in the basin of the Red River, a tributary of the South China Sea. The basin is shared by China, Laos and Vietnam. “Many issues arisen from socio-economic development in different parts of the Basin belonging to all three countries, including the reservoir building and waste discharging from the upstream area, belonging to China, affect more and more severely the downstream areas of Vietnam. Thus, integrated water resource management in the Red River basin has to be considered as a transboundary issue, requiring the joint efforts of the three countries. Unfortunately, this topic unto now is not appropriately addressed (Van Diep 2007).”

These examples indicate a more general pattern showing a widespread lack of willingness, or ability, to cooperate on transboundary water issues, especially if power politics and territorial claims overshadow them. There is a need to establish, both on the water quality and on water management, a more balanced picture through exchange and dialogue by crossing hands across the borders. Whether some Asian countries wish to join the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes is still an open question. However, such a step would be helpful not only from the point of view of fostering transboundary water cooperation, but also in the interest of regional security.

Public Participation, Transparency, and Good Governance

Successful environmental policies must be based on sound science, but that is not enough. As has been pointed out by Radkau (2011:457), “effective environmental protection stands no chance without the trio of citizens’ movement, dedicated media and environmentally conscious civil servants.” Such an interplay is only possible in a country with good governance, implying an independent judiciary, high degree of transparency, and participation of the public in decision-making. There are clear indications that effective governance goes hand in hand with good environmental performance.[37] The Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI), developed by a World Economic Forum Task Force (2001) and based on 67 variables, is a measure of overall progress towards sustainability in 122 countries.  A remarkable fact is that Reducing Corruption is the variable that has the highest correlation with the ESI. This fact supports the view that good governance, broadly conceived, enhances environmental sustainability. The non-governmental organisation Transparency International (TI)[38] first released in 1995 its Corruption Perception Index (CPI). TI has been widely credited with putting the issue of corruption on the international policy agenda. CPI ranks countries by their perceived levels of corruption, as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys. Research by Pellegrini and Gerlagh (2005) examined the variance in environmental policies in the enlarged Europe. Stringency of environmental regulations countries were measured by the Environmental Regulatory Regime Index (ERRI).[39] Their research concluded that differences in corruption levels across countries appear to be more important than income differences. Therefore, the lower environmental standards in pre-accession states were not primarily implied by lower income levels but likely reflected low institutional quality. This is a powerful rationale for new and acceding member states to adjust to EU legislation both in letter and in spirit, meaning more transparency and less corruption, especially at the judiciary level. The EC Directive 90/313/EEC on the freedom of access to information on the environment, related to the Aarhus UNECE Convention, imposes the duty to ensure that information held by publicly accountable bodies be available to the public.

Most Asian countries are still far from that standard. It is instructive to compare the CPI of selected European and Asian countries, whereby the score ranges between 0 (worst corruption) and 10 (no corruption). During the last 5 years, the CPI score of the 20 highest ranking countries ranged between 7.2 and 9.6. Among these “leaders” in transparency, 15 were European and American UNECE members, whereas only three were Asian: Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan[40]. For comparison: South Korea’s CPI medium-level score was during this period stagnating around 5.4, China’s around 3.5, India’s around 3.4, and Indonesia’s low score was slowly increasing from 2.4 to 2.8.

Observations by Bello (2007) about the environmental movements in the global South are highly relevant for Asian countries. “Among the most advanced environmental movements are those in Korea and Taiwan, which were once known as Newly Industrializing Countries (NICs). This should not be surprising since the process of rapid industrialization in these two societies from 1965 to 1990 took place with few environmental controls, if any . . . The environmental movements in both societies were able to force government to come out with restrictive new rules on toxics, industrial waste, and air pollution. Ironically, however, these successful cases of citizen action created a new problem, which was the migration of polluting industries from Taiwan and Korea to China and Southeast Asia. Along with Japanese firms, Korean and Taiwanese enterprises went to Southeast Asia and China mainly for two reasons: cheap labor and lax environmental laws… Because the environment was not perceived by authoritarian regimes as “political,” organizing around environmental and public health issues was not initially proscribed. Thus environmental struggles became an issue around which the anti-dictatorship movement could organize and reach new people. Environmental destruction became one more graphic example of a regime’s irresponsibility.” According to Bello (2007) “the environmental movement in China exhibits many of the same dynamics observed in the NICs and Southeast Asia. The environmental crisis in China is very serious. Water pollution and water scarcity; soil pollution, soil degradation and desertification; global warming and the coming energy crisis — these are all by-products of China’s high-speed industrialization and massively expanded consumption . . .In terms of public health, the rural health infrastructure has practically collapsed . . . Another big public health issue has been food safety.”  As in Taiwan and Korea 15 years earlier, Bello (2007) sees “unrestrained export-oriented industrialization bringing together low-wage migrant labor, farming communities whose lands are being grabbed or ruined environmentally, environmentalists, and the proponents of a major change in political economy . . . Indeed, a great many of recorded protests fused environmental, land-loss, income, and political issues. From 8,700 in 1995, what the Ministry of Public Security calls ‘mass group incidents’ have grown to 87,000 in 2005, most of them in the countryside . . .  But the strength of China’s environmental movement must not be exaggerated. Its failures often outnumber its successes. Alliances are often spontaneous and do not go beyond the local level . . . A national ‘red green’ coalition for change remains a potential force, one that is waiting to be constructed. Nevertheless, the environmental movement is no longer a marginal actor and it is definitely something that the state and big capital have to deal with.”

No Asian country has seen the emergence of a powerful Green Party as is the case in many EU countries. Nonetheless, the environment is firmly on the agenda of the major Asian powers, and the call for more openness and transparency cannot go unheard in the long term. Political modernization will necessarily follow economic and technological modernisation. Gorbachev’s bon mot “He who comes too late is punished by life” was based on his own experience, not the least after the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Before being able and willing to join the Aarhus convention, many deficits need to be overcome by most Asian countries in the area of the quality of governance. As an intermediate step, it would make sense for a number of emerging Asian economies to join or set up a system of Environmental Performance Reviews (EPR) using the experience of those countries that are already part of such a system, either within the UNECE or within the OECD. Experience collected during EPR exercises would be invaluable for fostering self-critical and cooperative attitudes that are indispensable in the field of environment.


A comparison of the environmental policy approaches of the EU, and to some extent of UNECE, with those of Asian countries reveals numerous differences. Some are clearly related to socio-economic factors such as the GDP and income inequalities. While others are connected to how governments make and implement decisions in both the domestic and transboundary contexts. The present chapter has highlighted two decisive factors: the quality of domestic governance, which includes such elements as transparency and public participation in decision-taking, and the ability to cooperate and find negotiated solutions for environmental problems with transboundary character.

The successes of EU environmental policy are largely due to a strong environmental movement that exercise a considerable political influence in parliaments and governments. This ascent of the “Greens” would not have been imaginable without European democratic traditions. History shows that non-transparency in environmental matters can seriously backfire on the political and industrial establishment, especially if a serious accident occurs. A case in point is the aftermath of the nuclear accidents in Chernobyl in 1986 and 2011 in Fukushima. Accidents with environmental and public health consequences mobilize public indignation and protest not only because they generate fears, but also because they reveal mismanagement and corruption that had been concealed through lack of transparency. It seems that some authoritarian leaderships increasingly realize the importance of quick response to public protests, such as after a recent accident with a chemical plant in Dalian, China.[41]

With GHG emissions continuing at present pace, nations will have no choice but to adapt to a considerably modified climate. The resilience with regard to the consequences of climate change will be strongly determined by the quality of domestic governance. The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), a Japan-based scientific establishment, concluded in 2001 that “environmental problem solving in the Asian region is made complex by differences in economic, political and cultural conditions. A challenge for the region is to develop governance mechanisms that can address both regional and global environmental problems” (Air 2010:122-123).

The interplay of UNECE and CSCE towards the end of the Cold War was a decisive factor in developing the pan-European environmental architecture. Such a “window of opportunity” and corresponding interplay of organisations may or may not arise in the Asian/Pacific contexts. European experience with negotiating and implementing agreements on transboundary air pollution and water issues, both at the regional and basin level, resulted in important “lessons learned,” as elaborated in previous chapters. Prerequisites for successful negotiations include that the environmental issue be addressed at the appropriate geographic level. There must be a high level of international scientific consensus, knowledge of measures to alleviate the burden and international action that adds value to domestic measures. In case of transboundary waters and seas, mutual trust and motivation to cooperate through joint bodies are of prime importance. Even when such trust does not exist, the cooperation may start with joint activities of national authorities on technical issues or in specific areas of cooperation. Several important Asian nations have been reluctant to enter into such negotiations, even where it seemed plausible that cooperation might contribute to conflict prevention and would alleviate problems of affected parties related to environmental degradation. The negotiations between India and Bangladesh during the last few years for a comprehensive water agreement could be seen as a catalyser to improve their overall relationships.[42]

While the initiative and determination to take action and negotiate multilateral agreements generally originates in the governments themselves, the fora necessary for coordinated support, such as regional UNEP offices, regional United Nations Economic Commissions and non-UN intergovernmental bodies, may propose cooperation on commonly shared issues such as transboundary air pollution. Countries should take advantage of such opportunities (Air 2010:80-82). The prospect of many Asian countries to join UNECE conventions seem uncertain at this time. Especially to join the Aarhus Convention would require an acceptable level of respect for human rights, good governance principles and an independent and effective judiciary. Joining the Water Convention would require readiness to cooperate, eventually through joint bodies. But the umbrella of the Water Convention would open also numerous “soft” ways to cooperate, e.g. through assessments of transboundary rivers, lakes and ground waters.

The interplay between domestic and foreign policy is also key for environmental protection. Zelikow (2011) described how this interplay is evolving: “In the past foreign policy mainly consisted of adjusting relations between states – what they will do with each other. Now foreign policy mainly consists of adjusting the domestic policies of different states . . . Foreign policies should focus on how to harmonise ´domestic´policies . . .The most pressing concerns of global firms, beyond formal trade rules, are . . . government procurement, competition policy, product safety and intellectual property law . . .Then there are the great issues of energy, ecology, or public health . . .The diplomats on the front lines working on these topics rarely are the officials who, back home, have the authority or expertise to act . . .This implies a model of distributed foreign policy making, in which many ministries and NGOs will move into the foreground of diplomacy . . . Rather than being coordinated by a central authority, policy will mainly be concerted in loose, common frameworks that sometimes defer to ‘sovereignty hawks’. These birds are at least as numerous in China and India as they are in the US . . . But our world has changed in deep ways . . . Crises can be an occasion to change older ways of doing business.”

Similiarly, Radkau (2011:465) was referring to the influential German sociologist Niklas Luhmann who realized how modern society is differentiated into a variety of sub-systems with proper language, proper communication networks, and having proper blinders on, which obstruct a grand synthesis. As great Asian nations are propelled forward, and develop into motors of global modernization it becomes an urgent task to overcome thinking in sub-systems and to strive for a synthesis for sustainable development.


[1] See the European Environment Agency at (accessed 20 February 2012).

[2] Civitas EU Facts at (accessed 20 February 2012; corrected 14 April 2014).

[3] Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg,  and The Netherlands.

[4] Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK.

[5] Bulgaria, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, German DR, Hungary, Mongolia, Poland, Romania, USSR, and Vietnam.

[6] CSCE became OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) on January 1, 1995. OSCE´s agenda addresses  politico-military; economic and environmental; and human dimensions. Environmental activities address ecologic threats to security. (accessed 20 February 2012).

[7] There were 19 signatures; the US and the UK did not sign.

[8] For an early analysis, see Bošnjaković (1993).

[9] Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

[10] Including: nuclear and thermal power stations; road and railway construction; chemical installations; waste disposal facilities; oil refineries; oil and gas pipelines; mining; steel production; pulp and paper manufacturing; construction of dams and reservoirs; ground water abstraction; construction of ports and water ways.

[11] Aarhus Convention website (accessed 20 February 2012).

[12]UNECE website:  (accessed 20 February 2012).

[13] UNECE website: (accessed 20 February 2012).

[14] For a most recent and complete overview, see Chellaney (2011).

[15] UNEP Regional Seas Programme website: (accessed 20 February 2012).

[16] ICPR website: (accessed 20 February 2012).

[17] OSPAR is the mechanism by which fifteen Governments of the western coasts and catchments of Europe, together with the European Community, cooperate to protect the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic. Starting with the Oslo Convention against dumping at sea, it was broadened to cover land-based sources and the offshore industry by the Paris Convention of 1974. These two conventions were unified, up-dated and extended by the 1992 OSPAR Convention.  OSPAR website: (accessed 20 February 2012).

[18] Helsinki Convention website: (accessed 20 February 2012).

[19] One of the reasons for the successful functioning of HELCOM is that there is an overarching political forum for regional intergovernmental cooperation in the Baltic Sea region in the form of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS), established in 1992. (accessed 27 February 2012).

[20] Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change ( UNFCCC). (accessed 28 February 2012).

[21] A deal in Durban. The Economist, December 11, 2011.

[22] The recent Pacific Islands Forum in Auckland described climate change as the largest threat to the region and demanded financial support for the process of relocating the inhabitans of some of its member States, reported Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 9 September 2011, p. 2.

[23] For a more detailed discussion, see Bošnjaković (2010), footnotes on p. 15.

[24] European Commission Climate Action website: (accessed 20 February 2012).

[25] Tax fraud loses EU carbon trading billions: Europol. EUbusiness, 10 December 2009 : see also : Steuerbetrug weitet sich aus, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 8 March 2011, p. 9.

[26] Öko-Strom im Gegenwind, Neue Zürcher Zeitung am Sonntag, 10 April 2011, p. 17.

[27] Russian gas and oil politics was used to exert political pressure in various ways on its neighbours or nearneighbours including Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia and Turkmenistan.

[28] Medvedev says Russia-China force to be reckoned with, Agence France-Presse, May 24, 2008.

[29] According to the recently adopted Five Years’ Plan, the growth should be slowed down to 7% per year. China verordnet sich langsameres Wachstum. Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 15 March 2011, p. 25

[30] The Future of Coal. 2007. MIT, as quoted by Flückiger and Schwab (2010:107).

[31] A deal in Durban. The Economist, December 11, 2011.

[32] In 2010, China hit two more records: it displaced Japan as the second economic power in the world and became number one in energy consumption.

[33] There has been continuing rivalry and tensions between the two countries in many theaters, including several military clashes because of China’s claims on territories in Kashmir. Significantly, the contested area includes glaciers in the Himalayas, one of the largest storehouses of fresh waters outside the Polar regions.

[34] According to Schmidt-Glintzer (2008:153-163, 266-267), contemporary China, in its process of modernization, cannot escape its historic reminiscences of the deeply traumatic humiliations imposed by Western powers during the 19th century.

[35] For full text of the agreement, see  (accessed 20 February 2012).

[36] AIT/UNEP RRC.AP stands for Asian Institute of Technology- United Nations Environment Programme Regional Resource Centre for Asia and the Pacific.

[37] See Fig. 8.6 in (World Bank 2010).

[38] TI website: (accessed 20 February 2012).

[39] For the definition of ERRI, see Pellegrini and Gerlagh (2005) and references quoted there  (Esty 2002).

[40] These scores are in line with the observation of Radkau (2011: 454 – 455) about the pioneering role of Japan in sustainable forestry and environmental policy, which was later picked up by Singapore and Hong Kong.

[41] Chemiewerk schliesst nach Protest. Neue Zürcher Zeitung, August 17, 2011, p. 6.

[42] These negotiations were useful even if a final agreement failed due to resistance of a provincial government in India. See:  Indien nähert sich dem östlichen Nachbarn. Neue Zürcher Zeitung, September 8, 2011, p. 3.


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