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UN seeks new environmental treaty

By Cheryl K. Chumley
web posted September 13, 2004

Forty: That's the number of global and regional legal documents already in existence that dictate what actions can and cannot be taken regarding the world's forests.

Forty-one: That's the number the United Nations hopes to reach via a new treaty on forestry preservation by 2005.

"International Experts Meet to Consider Legal Options for Managing World's Forests," a press release from the United Nations blared, shortly before the Sept. 7 through 10 New York gathering of 70 in the U.N. Forum on Forests, to which the United States is affiliated. Evidently, the 19 global and 21 regional contracts already in effect that deal, at least in part, with forests are not adequate to stave off what the United Nations perceives as wanton destruction of land; to the list that now includes the Convention on Biological Diversity, the International Tropical Timber Agreement, the Convention to Combat Desertification and the Convention on Climate Change, must come yet another.

"All the 19 global instruments deal with forests only as part of another agenda or cover only part of the world," said UNFF's Pekka Patosaari, in justification for creation of Treaty Number 20.

But as far as America is concerned, this explanation should be dismissed as flimsy. The idea of ceding authority to the global government is never one that should be taken lightly, but in the field of environmental matters, especially, the United States has already granted more power and oversight to the United Nations than is healthful for maintenance of our economy, sovereignty and free-market, capitalistic system. For instance, of the four treaties listed above, the United States has ratified three – and this is the gist of what we have so far forfeited.

The International Tropical Timber Agreement, which the United States signed on July 1, 1994 and accepted on Nov. 14, 1996, basically gives control of the world's timber market to the global body. Overseeing production, sales, imports and exports, according to this treaty, is the International Tropical Timber Organization and its ruling council members, the latter of whom are granted authority to set new rules regarding the timber market and also to disburse the quota of votes each participating nation receives that will dictate the future influence and focus of this treaty. America is a consumer and holds 51 votes, behind Japan, at 320 votes and Korea, with 97, and also behind producers Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil, which hold 170, 139 and 133 votes, respectively.

Not very capitalistic-sounding, is it?

On Oct. 14, 1994, the United States signed the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification, and ratified it six years later, in November, with several declarations. Though opting out of the more anti-sovereign aspects of this treaty – namely, those sections granting dispute settlement authority to the International Court of Justice, placing funding mandates on participating nations and requiring land management plans be submitted to the global body for approval – the United States nonetheless committed to the document's spirit of international collaboration by pledging to develop "cooperation among all levels of government communities, non-governmental organizations and landholders to establish a better understanding of the nature and value of land and scarce water resources in affected areas and to work towards their sustainable use."

In other words, the United States declined to submit land management plans to the United Nations, but at the same time, pledged to the United Nations that land management plans will be pushed at the community and local levels.

In the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which the United States signed on June 12, 1992 and ratified on Oct. 15, 1992, participating nations are committed to, among a slew of other requirements, "promote sustainable management … of sinks and reservoirs of all greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol, including biomass, forests and oceans…"

Aside from the pure mess this treaty has created in terms of attacking our country's ability to develop unencumbered by global law and to produce in line with free market principle – not to mention the doors for further U.N. encroachment that opened with the treaty's offspring, the Kyoto Protocol – this section quoted from Article Four proves America is already bound to preserve and manage the nation's forests. The question then is this: Why should we consider creating, signing and ratifying yet another global contract?

Forty seems a good, round number. Besides, it doesn't seem likely that if 40 can't do the job, the 41st would prove any more effective.

Cheryl K. Chumley is a freelance columnist who may be reached at ckchumley@aol.com.

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