For more than a century, the United States took the lead in organizing responses to international environmental problems. The long list of environmental agreements spearheaded by the United States extends from early treaties with Canada and Mexico on boundary waters and migratory birds to global agreements restricting trade in endangered species and protecting against ozone depletion. In the last two decades, however, U.S. environmental leadership has faltered.
The best-known example is the lack of an effective response to climate change, underscored by the U.S. decision not to join the Kyoto Protocol. But the attention climate change receives should not obscure the fact that the United States has also failed to join a large and growing number of treaties directed at other environmental threats, including marine pollution, the loss of biological diversity, persistent organic pollutants, and trade in toxic substances.
Today the Center for Progressive Reform publishes Reclaiming Global Environmental Leadership: Why the United States Should Ratify Ten Pending Environmental Treaties. My co-authors and I show the importance of ten treaties and urge the Obama Administration and Congress to work together to ratify them. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, these treaties do not generally raise difficult partisan issues. They were all negotiated with substantial U.S. input, and they all provide clear benefits to the United States – or they would if only the United States belonged to them.