Ratification of international and regional conventions and agreements brings the responsibilities and commitments associated with them into the text of national legislation. As a consequence, ratification of the recommendations of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, 1992) by Latin American governments has initiated a path for preventive actions for natural hazards, as well as other recommendations included in Agenda 21 to be incorporated into national legislation. The same is true for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and Drought. This also has been the case with the adoption of the Vienna Convention on the Protection of the Stratospheric Ozone Layer and its Montreal Protocol. Similar steps will be needed should the Kyoto Protocol be ratified. The UNFCCC, particularly Articles 2 and 4, calls for action vis-à-vis climate variations, and the Kyoto Protocol opens avenues for mitigation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; through Article 12, on Clean Development Mechanisms, the UNFCCC makes provision for assistance and transfer of technology from Annex I to non- Annex I Parties.
There also are a substantial number of regional agreements and a huge body of laws, rules, and regulations to ensure systematic and coordinated actions for protecting the environment, including flora and fauna and coastal and inland wetlands, as well as to promote sustainable development (PNUMA, 1991; Bertucci et al., 1996; Solano, 1997). Most Latin American governments have a comprehensive environmental legal framework with relevant laws, rules, and procedures for specific resources and activities (e.g., water, forestry and mineral resources, marine resources and coastal areas, hunting and fishing, and tourism, as well as specific products and pesticides and pollution) (Sebastiani et al., 1991, 1996a,b). Latin American governments also have developed national and regional environmental plans and strategies, as well as other sectoral or special programs. Although implementation in some countries is far from satisfactory, it also is very common to find legislation that regulates the use of natural resources and makes provision to punish noncompliance (Solano, 1997). In a large number of countries in the region, recent legal developments on environmental management include mandatory environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies. All Latin American countries are expected to adopt this policy. With regard to the climate component, the main shortcomings highlighted in the report to the IPCC Bureau on Systematic Observations are lack of sufficiently dense terrestrial and marine observing systems; lack of systematic observations on specific biological variables and socioeconomic impacts, as well as GHGs and aerosols; and consolidation of land surface observations (hydrology, ecosystems, and land use) (WMO, 1998). This means that, generally speaking, there are limitations that affect the value and reliability of EIAs in some areas of the region.
In line with United Nations Resolution A/52/629which calls for cooperation to incorporate sustainable development programs at national, regional and global levelscountries in Latin America are engaged in fulfilling the objectives of such development programs. In this respect, policymakers and decisionmakers should be made aware of the role played by climate variation issues in such development strategies. The large majority of countries follow the recommendations made by the United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development (UNCSD), and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) is assisting them in integrating relevant disciplines and sectors, particularly for incorporating natural hazard response strategies in sustainable development policies. However, more work still is needed, as a result of the aforementioned shortcomings in the operation of observing and monitoring systems as well as the need for capacity-building on issues related to sustainable development and their well-known linkages with climate issues. Such action becomes relevant to efforts for mitigating environmental hazards and acting in line with the planning of the Pan-American Climate Information and Applications System (PACIS), as suggested by the Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile, in 1998.
As environmental concerns become more pressing, they are climbing higher on the international political agenda. Globalization in its many guises poses an enormous challenge for traditional governance structures. While nationsparticularly developing nationsare losing ground in globalization, other actors are moving to the forefront, particularly international corporations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Therefore, governments should not only take into account this new spectrum of participants in future environmental legislation but, above all, give them specific and urgently required roles in defense of the environment. New information and communication technologies are facilitating international networking, and activist groups, businesses, and international institutions are forging innovative partnership.
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