COMMISSION FOR ENVIRONMENTAL COOPERATION
THREE COUNTRIES WORKING TOGETHER TO PROTECT OUR SHARED ENVIRONMENT
Greening NAFTA, The North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation, is a new book edited by John H. Knox and David L. Markell. It presents an analysis of how the CEC has "fulfilled, or failed to fulfill, its mandates" as the organization approaches its 10th anniversary in 2004. The following excerpt is drawn from the book's concluding chapter.
In light of the fact that the CEC emerged from the ferment over NAFTA, it is ironic that the contributions [the various analyses in the book] sharply question the effectiveness of the CEC as a trade and environment institution. The CEC has largely failed to create an environmental voice within the NAFTA institutions. It has sponsored innovative and important studies assessing NAFTA's environmental effects, but to date those studies have not changed the approach to environmental issues within the trade ministries. (They may nevertheless lead to positive results, however, when they are used to draw attention to a particular problem.) Moreover, any effort to forestall pollution havens seems problematic, both because foreign investment does not seem inclined to treat Mexico as a pollution haven and because the CEC does not have sufficient resources by itself to pull up Mexico's level of environmental protection.
More generally, many of the contributors note the limits inherent in the CEC model. The CEC has no great budget to induce others to follow its lead, and in practice it cannot impose environmental standards or economic sanctions upon a recalcitrant government. At best, it can use its limited funds, its ability to facilitate agreement, and its "authoritative voice" to serve as a catalyst. Its success, therefore, depends directly on the actions of individuals, groups, and governments willing to pursue its goals.
Despite these limits, however, the contributors are generally positive with respect to the CEC's record as a regional environmental organization and as a forum for civil society. The contributions point to concrete achievements in specific substantive areas, such as strengthening Mexico's regulation of toxic chemicals, Mexico's and Canada's PRTR systems, and improving information on continental biodiversity. They highlight the role that the CEC has played in facilitating networking among interested members of the public and in providing financial support (albeit in very limited amounts) for effective local projects. Moreover, the contributors emphasize the importance of the citizen submissions procedure and JPAC, which break new ground in international environmental law.
These observations suggest that attempts to reproduce the CEC model should look beyond the trade context. The idea of a hemispheric CEC attached to the FTAA may be attractive, but the connection to the FTAA seems unnecessary; a freestanding environmental agreement along the lines of the NAAEC would appear likely to provide the same kinds of benefits to other regions that the CEC has provided to North America.
It seems fitting to give a final word to John Wirth, who sums up the record of the CEC as follows: "Still a young organization, the CEC has made extraordinary progress in addressing environmental issues that until recently had little or no resonance across all three countries." By broadening his language about JPAC to include the CEC as a whole, we can also borrow his closing words: "No small achievement."
From Greening NAFTA, The North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation, edited by David L. Markell and John H. Knox, © 2003 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Jr. University. By permission of the publisher.