Global Diplomacy
by James L. Morrison

[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in On the Horizon, 1992, 1(4), 10-11. It is posted here with permission from Jossey Bass Publishers.]

Throughout most of the 20th century, diplomats have concentrated on questions of political and economic relations among nation-states. As the century closes, a third set of international problems, those relating to the health of the planet, is coming to the fore. The threatened depletion of Earth's ozone layer is a prime example of such challenges (other items on the new agenda include global warming, deforestation, species extinction, desertification and soil erosion, and pollution of common resources). Ambassador Benedick, the chief US negotiator of the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, later revised in 1990, describes the negotiations and the protocol as "the forerunner of an evolving global diplomacy, through which nations accept common responsibility for stewardship of the planet." Some lessons for this new diplomacy are:

  1. Scientists must play an unaccustomed but major role in international environmental negotiations.
  2. Governments may have to act while there is still scientific uncertainty, balancing the risks and costs of acting or not acting.
  3. Educating and mobilizing public opinion are essential to generate pressure on hesitant governments and private companies.
  4. Strong leadership by a major country can be a significant force for developing consensus.
  5. It may be desirable for a leading country or group of countries to take preemptive protection measures in advance of a global agreement.
  6. Economic and structural inequalities among countries must be adequately reflected in any international regulatory regime. In the long run, the huge and growing populations of Less Developed Countries (LDCs) could undermine efforts to protect the global environment.
  7. The effectiveness of an agreement is enhanced when it employs market incentives to stimulate technological innovation.

[Benedick, R.E. (1991). Ozone diplomacy: New directions in safeguarding the planet. Cambridge, MA: Harvard U Press. Adapted from Future Survey Annual, 1992]

More than 2.2 million tons of toxic garbage cross borders each year, with no end in sight. Like drugs and arms, trafficking in hazardous waste has become big business for a new breed of "waste lords." Blocked by increasing regulation and local opposition to disposal sites, the stream of waste constantly searches for new outlets, usually poor communities and countries. Within the US, waste migrates to the rural South; in the UK, from England to Wales. The US is by far the greatest producer, generating 10 times as much hazardous waste as all of Western Europe, more than one ton of waste a year for each American. The US shipped 100,00 tons of hazardous waste abroad in 1987, with the figure rising by 40% by 1989. Recent reports suggest the problem is out of control, and that the EPA does not know how much waste is exported.

There is virtually no international mechanism to monitor the waste trade, much less police it for violations. The Basel Convention of 1989, a treaty on the export of toxic waste, called for exporters to notify and receive permission from importers before any shipment may proceed. But LDCs have no mechanism to enforce provisions, and remain at the mercy of the First World. [Center for Investigative Reporting & Moyers, B. (1990). Global dumping ground: The international traffic in hazardous waste. Washington: Seven Locks Press. Adapted from Future Survey Annual, 1992.]

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