Establishment of environmental protection legislation and agencies

Since the late 1960s, most countries have established national agencies of environmental protection that are at the ministerial level and an increasing body of environmental regulations at all levels of government. However, in many cases the implementation of environmental regulation has been hampered because of political economic constraints of information about the processes that drive environmental degradation and the means to control them. There is a large body of evidence (Damania, Fredriksson, and List, 2003; Deacon 1999) showing that higher income countries attain higher standards of environmental quality and that corruption and flawed governance reduce the effectiveness of environmental policy.

The primary means of environmental regulation have been through the implementation of "command and control" measures, which are fairly blunt and achieve environmental objectives at excessive costs (Oates and Baumol, 1996). However, at present, there is gradual transition to financial incentives (payment for environmental services) and market-based mechanisms (trading in water rights or pollution permits). The regulation of chemical pesticides and drugs consists of strict preregistration testing and "learning by doing" once a product is released. The regulating authorities establish applications, standards, and tests for efficacy and side effects before registration. Products are recalled once a sever defect (carcinogenicity) is detected. The high cost of registration may be a barrier to entry, but it serves to address concerns about product safety and environmental impacts (National Research Council, 2000). Cropper et al. (1992), in an analysis of the regulations of pesticides in the United States, suggest that the Environmental Protection Agency is capable of weighing benefits and costs when regulating environmental hazards; however, the implicit value placed on health risks—$35 million per applicator cancer case avoided—may be considered high by some people. The same regulatory approach is used for genetically modified (GM) varieties. The effectiveness of this regulatory approach depends on quantitative understanding of the processes through which biotechnology affects the environment. For example, concerns about the buildup of pest resistance have led to the establishment of refugia requirements (demanding allocation of some land to nonmodified varieties) with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton. The challenges of establishing and implementing these regulations are apparent from a growing body of literature on their evaluation (Laxaminarayan, 2002). Performance measures are also very difficult to establish for the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity. There is uncertainty on the status, measurement, and value of biological diversity, both for wild and agricultural biodiversity.

Chapter 19 the irreversibility of the loss of genetic resources also creates difficulties in assigning performance measures.

Until recently, agricultural biodiversity conservation policies have focused primarily on the ex situ preservation of genetic resources associated with economically important crops. At present, the portfolio of policies includes ex situ gene banks, the establishment of botanical gardens and experiment stations, and various forms of incentive measures to promote in situ conservation. The former are mechanisms for preserving genetic resources, while the latter conserve evolutionary processes and human knowledge in addition to genetic resources.

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