By Mary Tharin
BASEL, CITES, CBD, CMS? Remembering the acronyms of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) is challenging enough, much less trying to recall their technical details. Thankfully, the MEA Information and Knowledge Management Initiative, facilitated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), just launched a user-friendly information portal called InforMEA to help navigate the complex landscape of international environmental law. CIEL’s attorneys and interns helped to assemble, analyze and index international environmental treaties and decisions for this Initiative.
The website presents major MEAs and protocols in three over-arching categories: 1) biological diversity, 2) chemicals and waste management, and 3) climate, atmosphere and deserts. With a few easy clicks you can access the full text of each agreement, a list of parties, national focal points, and subsequent decisions. The site also features a useful chart listing every country to ever sign an MEA, along with their date of ratification. It’s interesting to note how some countries (like the United States) compare with the rest of the world.
A great feature is the “MEA Explorer,” which provides a comprehensive search within the full text of all agreements at once. For example, a search for “technical assistance,” brings up all relevant decisions from the twelve treaties included in the database, and you,can further refine results to one or more specific treaties.
The importance of a resource like this one goes beyond assisting overworked law students (like me) on the occasional research assignment. As the complexities of our global environmental challenges continue to emerge, it is increasingly important that MEAs work together in order to successfully accomplish their goals.
The Rio2012 Conference being held this June will mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). One of the Conference’s main themes will be the development of an “institutional framework for sustainable development.” Publicly-available tools like InforMEA can help Parties and the environmental community-at-large navigate the complex web of treaties and decisions to facilitate the creation of such a framework.
The site, which launched on June 14th, still has room for growth. For example, the “terms” section compiles a lot of important vocabulary used in various instruments, but a comprehensive index and streamlined definitions are lacking. Luckily, the helpful folks at InforMEA are asking for your feedback!. After checking out the site, you can submit your suggestions at the bottom of any page.
Overall, InforMEA is a great new resource for law students, practitioners, and interested individuals, as well as an important step toward harmonizing the rapidly expanding body of multilateral environmental agreements. Well worth checking out!