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MEA Bulletin - Guest Article No. 92 - Thursday, 13 May 2010
Confronting Environmental Treaty Implementation Challenges in the Pacific Islands
By Pamela S. Chasek, Executive Editor, Earth Negotiations Bulletin, and Associate Professor of Political Science, Manhattan College
There is a pervasive notion that small islands are privileged to be situated in a heavenly natural environment, and that this is the main determinant of the quality of life of islanders. This convenient vision has been fueled not only by the way the tourism industry has portrayed tropical islands, but also by the fact that a majority of small-island developing states have demonstrated a relatively enviable socioeconomic performance, compared with many continental or large developing countries. Overall, the international community has tended to view island societies as relatively prosperous, and has not been inclined to appreciate the intrinsic reality of “small islandness,” which is characterized by environmental and social fragility and a high degree of economic vulnerability to many possible external shocks beyond domestic control (UNCTAD 2004).

It is this paradox that has affected the Pacific Island countries (PICs) and territories most of all. The problems facing these small entities are in some cases so large that none can respond to them alone. As a result, cooperation, mutual aid between states, and the pooling of energies and ideas is necessary within the region.

Cooperation in such a diverse region comes with its challenges, however, as does the participation of the PICs in a range of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). At the national level, operation of the MEA system requires significant time and resources to address policy considerations for negotiation, signature, and ratification of conventions. The same is true for the implementation of national commitments under ratified conventions. For small Pacific Island nations these requirements are quite large in relation to the total number of government personnel and their other responsibilities.

Specifically, in the Pacific most of the responsibility for national coordination of MEA implementation rests with a small number of personnel in environment units or departments set up relatively recently. In this context, while MEA processes may be the key to building up resources and capacities to address the full range of environmental issues over the medium to long term, in the short term they can impose significant additional stresses on smaller developing countries, like those in the Pacific.

This paper examines the difficulties that the PICs have in fulfilling their international environmental commitments. The first section of the paper provides an introduction to the region. The next section describes the MEAs that play a role in the Pacific, followed by an examination of implementation challenges. The final section provides recommendations on how these challenges can be addressed and what role the donor community, regional organizations, United Nations (UN) system, and nongovernmental organizations can play in this regard.
Confronting Environmental Treaty Implementation Challenges in the Pacific Islands Confronting Environmental Treaty Implementation Challenges in the Pacific Islands
Pacific Islands Policy No. 6

by Pamela S. Chasek

Free pdf download available mid-May at:

Publisher: Honolulu: East-West Center
ISSN 1933-1223 (print) and 1933-172X (electronic)

Binding: paper
Pages: 43
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