Environmental Policing of the Global Commons


‘How many years can a mountain exist before it is washed to the sea? ... How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?’ The words of Bob Dylan’s song Blowin’ in the Wind hold more truth today than when they were originally released. The same applies to the previously-scribed words of Maj Gen Vinod Saighal* featured herein.

It is tragic that in spite of the leaders of the governments of the world pledging to reverse the ecological decline; mostly lip-service is paid when follow-up action has to be taken on the ground. The damage to the environmental health of the planet came to light a good 40-50 years ago. Not only was heed not paid to the dire predictions but the pace of decline actually increased. All indicators – destruction of forests, loss of bio-diversity, seepage of toxic substances into ground water aquifers, increase in pollution, etc. – have shown that the rate of decline increased manifold. The way things are going, a terminally sick human civilisation may limp beyond the next century to sub-human survival levels.

Twentieth-century organisations – national and international – are not geared to meet the environmental challenges of the next century. The nations of the world have got bogged down in unproductive adversarial dialogues. In as little as 10-20 years, terms North-South and haves versus the have-nots will cease to be relevant because the scale of depletion will render all such compartmentalisation meaningless. Mankind has entered the last decade where rational decisions between rational human beings can still be taken to attempt to retrieve the situation. Going beyond the useless tenor of debates, urgent measures that need to be taken forthwith at the global level are spelled out in the ensuing paragraphs:

• Extension of ICJ jurisdiction to all matters relating to the global environment. ICJ to be assisted by a specially constituted Environmental Legislative Wing (ELW). The ELW comprising independent experts to prepare a comprehensive blueprint for the eco-revival of the planet. The planetary environmental blueprint to be ready within 24 months of setting up of the ELW;

• The ELW planetary environmental blueprint to be discussed in the UN General Assembly for adoption by 1 January 2000. All states will be “obliged” to adhere to the blueprint regardless of individual beliefs of the states or their subjects. Penalties for infractions will be laid down the by the ICJ. All recoveries would be credited to the GRF.

• Environmental policing of the global commons and eco-fragile areas by UN environmental protection forces – terrestrial and marine. Again no separate organizations are required to be raised. A small eco-protection cell would nominate NGOs considered competent to do the task. They would be hired for the purpose. Ships and patrol vehicles could also be hired, along with crews, from governments or other commercial organizations at the normal rates prevailing for carrying out the operations. Ecomonitors on the ships or onshore would be nominated by the eco-protection cell on as required basis. The emphasis, periodicity and quantum of force required to be maintained would depend on the assessment of the threat as well as the fragility of the area.

• UN agencies, international donor agencies and private philanthropic organizations have made available large amounts of money to various governments for environmental protection and developmental activities. It has been seen that the sums allocated do not always reach where they were supposed to. Noted environmentalists, retired military personnel and managers with proven competence could in future be co-opted to supervise the programmes on the ground.

• Globally enforceable guidelines to be laid down for the optimum size of bulk carriers and the safety measures to be incorporated. Irrespective of the longer routing and increase in transportation costs, exclusion zones for movement of hazardous materials to be laid down on the seas and on land.

• Based on satellite monitoring and shore intelligence UN backed naval patrols or navies of nation states that volunteer for UN work to be authorized to confiscate the ships and fishing nets falling in the banned category. Owners of the shipping lines to be prosecuted separately thereafter. After a first fine every second offence would make the defaulters liable to heavy prison sentences.

• Where a species has been declared an endangered species the culpability for violation to extend to heads of syndicates or organizations deploying the resources for illegal exploitation. The US model RICO (Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organization Act, 1970) to be adopted internationally for violations to the environment, specifically prohibited under global protocols.

• A global natural regeneration scheme to be worked out whereby selected eco-fragile areas would be excluded from all environmentally harmful activity for given periods ranging from ten to fifty years by rotation to allow for natural regeneration.

• Global or national conventions relating to the environment normally end up preaching to the converted or restating the obvious. A thought could be given to reducing these conventions where the costs of holding the convention turn out to be on the higher side. What is more important is that the known faces could be replaced by inviting younger people from the threatened areas and exposing them to the deliberations of the convention. At least fifty percent of the invitees should fall into the second category.

• On the lines suggested earlier tourist activity could also be curtailed in ecologically threatened areas.

• The establishment of UN Peace and Eco-Revival Universities worldwide with curricula more suited for the tasks that would be taken up by the students of these universities. Global quotas will be maintained.

• Extension of the Auroville (Pondicherry) type of international living experiments.

• Ecotone restoration along water bodies.

• Ecotone restoration along the sea coast in ecologically devastated areas.

• Synecological studies of river systems. The immediate objective of such studies would be (i) to determine the pelagic/terrestrial interface in coastal/estuarine regions; (ii) to identify nesting/spawning habitats of anadromous species in their upstream migration; (iii) to recommend/initiate steps for preservation of the ecotone critical to spawning and nesting habitats for marine organisms, avifauna and fauna endemic to the region; (iv) to study pollution effects and recommend short- and long-term remedial measures; (v) to prepare technical river profiles having ecologic-geomorphological bias.

A momentous reversal must now take place for the eco-revival of the planet. There is no more ground to give. Where reasoned dialogue works it must be continued. Where it does not work other means will now have to be adopted. When a person’s house is aflame the person has to go all out to put out the flames. When nations have been attacked they have strained every sinew to repel the attack. Humankind’s home is under attack from all sides. Humankind must get up to fight on all fronts. It is no longer a (passively) defensive battle. It can no longer be won that way. The war has to be carried to the regions where the Earth is being ravaged. Creating awareness is no longer enough. There is hardly any schoolchild anywhere on the planet not aware about the ecological decline. The problem lies elsewhere. The fight must be carried professionally and under a global mandate (UN mandate) to every spot on the globe where despoliation of the remaining virgin tracts is still taking place. Cease and desist notices must be issued. Where no action is taken on these notices or where clandestine activity still continues, the individuals or corporations concerned must be apprehended by international forces and brought to book. Bringing to book is not enough. Where irreversible damage has been done, no penitence after the act can restore the lost heritage of mankind. Corporations indulging in these activities must be dealt with most severely in the manner specified earlier for nuclear infractions. There is no other way. Even that would not suffice. Global action to resume degraded ecological zones for restoring their ecological health for periods ranging from twenty five to hundred years – under global trusteeships – should commence simultaneously. After the fragile zones have been revived through global funding they will be handed back to the countries to which they belonged with sufficient safeguards to prevent further despoliation. In the case of global commons the trusteeship could continue for as long as required.

A debate has been raging in many parts of the world on human needs verses animal needs. The human species is proliferating exponentially. A few more or less or this particular species will not impoverish the planet. The disappearance of a unique habitat or an endangered species will. (P-215 to 224; THIRD MILLENNIUM EQUIPOISE by Maj. Gen. Vinod Saighal).

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Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.