V. MULTILATERAL TRADE AND ENVIRONMENTAL AGREEMENTS, AND DOMESTIC POLICY FORMULATION
State of Environment assessments and reassessments in most countries have been strongly qualitative in nature because of the limited availability of, or access to, environmental data. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), which found this to be a global problem, stresses in its Agenda 21 the importance of improving the availability of environmental and development information for decision-making in accordance with sustainable development principles. Agenda 21 also calls for the improved collection and presentation of data and information; in fact, that is one of the basic and most urgent needs that will have to be addressed by small island countries such as Tonga if the environmental degradation they now face is to be minimized.
Although much of the programme of action in Agenda 21 is relevant to small island States of the South Pacific, the specific concerns of those nations are summarized in Programme Area G of chapter 17 on ocean and seas, entitled "Sustainable development of small islands". That chapter called for the first global conference on the sustainable development of small island States. That conference was subsequently held in Barbados in May 1994 to discuss the particular concerns of small island nations and it came up with a comprehensive Programme of Action for the sustainable development of small island States. The Programme of Action is a "mini-Agenda 21" comprising 15 chapters, 14 of which cover sectoral and cross-sectoral environmental issues.
In fact, the South Pacific response to the whole issue of sustainable development that was addressed by Agenda 21 and the Barbados Programme of Action actually began well before UNCED. All the countries in the South Pacific have participated in the formulation of NEMS, a process coordinated by SPREP. The NEMS process (or its equivalent) helped to identify the main environment and sustainable priorities for each country and provide a strategic approach for the follow-up to Agenda 21 and the Barbados Programme of Action.
One of the main areas of concern identified by NEMS was the need to strengthen institutional capabilities at the national level. In response, the United Nations Development Programme has funded a regional programme, coordinated by SPREP, on capacity-building in the South Pacific under the Capacity 21 programme. The regional programme is designed to assist Pacific island countries to integrate the environment and development in responding to national priorities under national development and other plans.
With respect to Tonga, there has, unfortunately, been little progress in pursuing the call for improved collection, analysis and presentation of environmental data and information. As a result, periodic analysis and reporting of environmental conditions and trends has not been undertaken. There is neither a programme of action to that effect, nor have resources been set aside for such an activity.
It must be noted that Conventions are legally binding and require legislation within the signatory countries before ratification. In contrast, the Plans of Action which were signed in Rio and Barbados do not require any legislative changes by the participating countries and are merely an intention of commitment, i.e., in terms of international law they are "soft laws" and have no legal status.