International Environmental Issues

Climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation and air and water pollution are not confined by human-imposed boundaries as waterways, watersheds, oceans, biodiversity, ecosystems and the atmosphere tend to span countries, continents or the globe.

Perhaps the most ubiquitous international environmental issue is climate change. Climate change cooperation has been stalled by North-South contentions surrounding inequalities, the right to development, financial support, technology transfer and the ability of the world’s most vulnerable nations to adapt.

Moreover, in a highly globalized world, raw materials, finished goods and waste are transported across nations and continents. Often times resulting in environmental degradation and pollution throughout the entire life cycle of a product or process.

The demand for a good in one country can result in environmental degradation of another country. For example, the demand for timber or agricultural products in the United States can cause rampant deforestation in tropical regions. Also, the excessive consumption of electronic devices such as cell phones or laptops generates thousands of tons of electronic waste (e-waste), which contains heavy metals and other toxic materials. E-waste generated by developed nations is often exported to countries such as China, India or other places with lax environmental laws and enforcement.

The realization that environmental issues are more often than not of transboundary nature requires international collaboration and cooperation. As a result, numerous international agreements have entered into force in the hopes of fostering a concerted effort in addressing some of the most pressing problems. Some of the most widely known international environmental agreements include the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, the Kyoto Protocol, CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), and the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.


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    Welcome to the Africa Collection! This new collection is centered on the environmental, economic and social challenges faced by the people of Africa. The goal of this collection... More »

  • The North American Mosaic Featured Article The North American Mosaic The North American Mosaic

    An Overview of Key Environmental Issues The North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation obliges the Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation to... More »

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    Tokelau is group of three low-lying coral atolls (Atafu, Fakaofo, Nukunonu) enclosing large lagoons in the South Pacific Ocean, about one-half of the way from Hawaii to New... More »

Recently Updated
Air quality in megacities Last Updated on 2014-09-18 16:40:27 Ambient air pollution in an increasingly urbanized world directly threatens the health of a large fraction of the world’s population. There is growing recognition that air-borne emissions from major urban and industrial areas influence both air quality and climate change on scales ranging from regional up to continental and global. Deteriorating urban air quality affects the viability of important natural and agricultural ecosystems in regions surrounding highly urbanized areas, and significantly influences regional atmospheric chemistry and global climate change. This challenge is particularly acute in the developing world where the rapid growth of megacities (cities having population equal to or more than 10 million) is producing atmospheric pollution of unprecedented severity and extent. For example, the deterioration of air quality is a problem that is directly experienced... More »
Freshwater Last Updated on 2014-09-06 18:32:23 The definition of freshwater is water containing less than 1000 milligrams per liter of dissolved solids, most often salt. The global distribution of freshwater resources varies greatly from region to region (see Figure 1). An 'inventory' of Earth's waters shows that approximately 97% of the global water supply is found in the oceans, which are saline. A very small amount of salty water is also located in saline lakes (e.g., the Caspian Sea). The remaining water inventory (3%) is 'freshwater'. Permanent ice (e.g., continental and mountain glaciers) is the largest freshwater storage on Earth, accounting for about 2% of the total global supply - or nearly 69% of the total freshwater supply. Freshwater is also found beneath the Earth's surface as groundwater (approximately 30% of the total freshwater supply) and in surface water storages such as lakes, streams,... More »
Kaziranga National Park, India Last Updated on 2014-07-07 17:22:24 Introduction Kaziranga National Park (26º40'N, 93º22'E) is a World Heritage Site that is one of the last areas in eastern India almost undisturbed by man. It is a forest-edged riverine grassland maintained by fire and annual floods inhabited by the world's largest population of one-horned rhinoceroses, as well as a wide diversity of animals, including tigers, elephants, leopards, bears, several species of deer and thousands of birds. 1985: Inscribed on the World Heritage list under Natural Criteria ix and x. Situated on the southern bank of the Brahmaputra River at the foot of the Mikir / Karbi Anglong Hills, about 8 kilometers (km) from Bokakhat and 220 km east of Gauhati, the Assam state capital. National Highway No. 37 forms the southern boundary. 26°30'-26°45'N, 93°05'-93°40'E. 1908: Originally established as a... More »
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), United States Last Updated on 2014-06-30 19:00:15 The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a federal agency within the United States Department of Commerce.  As a science-based operational agency tasked with monitoring climate and changes in the environment, NOAA is responsible for the study of the atmosphere and the oceans.  The agency issues daily weather forecasts and storm warnings, restores coastline, aids the flow of marine commerce, and manages fisheries.  NOAA's activities facilitate weather- and climate-sensitive economic activity that account for roughly one-third of the country's gross domestic product (GDP)[1]. The agency also responds to natural and man-made maritime disasters, operates a complex network of oceanographic, meteorological and atmospheric data-collecting products and services, and manages marine mammals, marine endangered... More »
Asian Carp and the Great Lakes Region Last Updated on 2014-06-20 13:48:30 Alien species of Asian carp are a significant ongoing adverse ecological threat to the Great Lakes of North America. Chief pathways for the introduction of these species has been from the waterways of the city of Chicago, Illinois. The U.S. Congress and federal regulatory agencies are investigating protocols to reduce alien species influxes from Chicago waterways into the Great Lakes, whose fishery value is approximately seven billion dollars per annum. The city of Chicago has resisted environmental protection initiatives, on the grounds that the city's commercial interests may be harmed. Four species of non-indigenous Asian carp are expanding their range in U.S. waterways, resulting in a variety of concerns and problems. Three species—bighead, silver, and black carp—are of particular note, based on the perceived degree of environmental concern. Current controversy... More »