Международный правовой курьер

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Plant Health and Climate Change: International Legal Aspects

Talking about humankind is to talk about the life and whoever speaks of life must necessary include plants. Plants cover a great topic of discussion, one of which is the subject of this article. Plant health and climate change are linked because the second influences the first, which calls for plant protection measures. The question of the legal regulatory framework for plants is a procedural concept that legally started in France by 1878 and has continued up to now with different approaches depending on the period. the question brought beforehand on the protection of a given plant species against pest and plant disease has nowadays extended to other questions and a wide variety of species including forests with the determination of phytosanitary measures applicable to regulate plant issues everywhere in the world, the interaction with world trade organization, its bodies and all relevant institutions or mechanisms, the need to find appropriate policy and measures to adapt to climate change and to mitigate its impacts on plants. this article Characterizes the potential effects and subsequent impact of climate change on plant health, the evolution of the legal regulatory framework and mechanism protecting plants from the first legal document to the current ones, the instruments and protection mechanisms that we have achieved so far from the international, regional to national levels and how those legal regulations led societies to face climate change and plant pests by reducing their impacts on plants.

Keywords: Plants health, Climate Change, Pests, Regulatory Framework, Phytosanitary measures, International law.



The issue of plant health will become a major concern if the climatic conditions observed today continue with the consequences that they entail which lead on crop losses, food shortages, plant pests… plants constitute the source of oxygen we breathe and the main source of the food and medicine for ourselves and animals, they provide us clean air, stable environment, water; Human life depends largely on plants health.

Climate change factors such as temperature, change in precipitation patterns, concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere, floods, drought, weeds… cause plant diseases, contribute to the spread of plant pests. Possibly the first phytosanitary law enacted was in 17th century, in Europe when the French farmers around Rouen secured passage of a law requiring destruction of barberry bushes in wheat areas to protect their wheat fields in the future, later identified as black stem rust caused by fungus Puccinia graminis[1], the need to protect their crops led to the adoption of the conventions aiming to prevent the spreading of pests and to tackle all the issues related to.

In order to better understand this topic, it will be necessary to define its main concepts such as plant health, climate change.

What is plant health? The notion of plant health has two uses. On one hand it refers to the scientific and regulatory framework of checking plant imports for the presence of potentially invasive pests and pathogens. On other hand, it is less specific and touches on all areas of plant protection, otherwise, plant health refers to the legislative and administrative procedures used by governments to prevent plant pests from entering and spreading within their territories[2]. It is also defined as the ability of a plant to carry out of its physiological functions to the best of its genetic potential.

Another term that could also cover this area is:

Climate change which is defined by the paragraph 2 of article 1 of UNFCCC adopted on the 9 May 1992 as a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods. The definition has distinguished two origins of climate change: natural origin caused by natural factors and anthropogenic origin caused by human activities, both of them have adverse effects on ecosystem precisely on plants such as defined by the article 1 of the UNFCCC in its first paragraph.

In plant health one is continually dealing with a great variety of organisms potentially harmful to plants, including other plants, fungi, bacteria, viruses, insects, mites, nematodes and members of many other categories of organisms. For simplicity and convenience of reference, therefore, a widely adopted convention is to use the term ‘plant pest’ to refer to all kinds of organisms harmful to plants, and not only to those belonging to the animal kingdom. This is the sense in which ‘pest’ is used here, unless another meaning is made clear. Then how does plant heath relate to climate change? How is this issue regulated internationally?

Today, it is important to pay attention to the issue of plant health and pest risks into the climate change debate, given that the world’s population is expected to grow faster, it is importance to reduce losses from pests and diseases in order to save humanity from the future disaster caused by the effects of climate change and plant pests on plants.

   I. The effects and impact of climate change on plant health.

Plant pests and diseases cause up to 40% of food crop losses each year according to the FAO[3]. Two major causes are at the origin of this phenomenon: climate change and the increase in international trade[4].

Climate change is characterized by increasing levels of atmospheric pressure from natural and anthropogenic sources, phenomenon which jeopardize plant health. One example of the effects of climate change is floods caused by rising of sea level with major negative impacts such as crop losses. Drought, characterized by insufficiencies in water levels in the soil entails the loss of plants biological’s functions and even become more susceptible to diseases and pests. Crop yield can be affected also by high levels of CO2[5]. More extreme temperatures and precipitation might decrease growth in certain crops. A study has shown that: climate change disturbs the life cycle of plants particularly at the time of first leafing, flowering or fruiting of the plant.   Moreover, drought has developed into a major problem in regions with increased summer temperatures as this causes dryness in soils. Other effects of climate change on plants are the disturbances of the rainfall regime characterized by regions, such as the Sahelian region. One other factor are stormy rains which destroy plants thus contributing to the drop in harvest. Pests, weeds, and fungi thrive under warmer temperatures and increased CO2 levels. Beside the impacts on production, climate change and plant pests cause negative impacts on fundamental human rights[6] such as: right to life, right to adequate food characterized by the effects on food security and nutrition leading to starvation, impacts the development of developing countries by reducing their national income through the effects on prices and markets, trade. they also have severe impacts on human health and the living environment, on the rights of vulnerable peoples such as children, women, indigenous peoples which lives depend on natural resources like plants from which they feed and provide health care through medicinal plants, on financial costs to finance the measures of inspection, monitoring, prevention and intervention. Owing these effects, states undertook to protect plant health by establishing legal measures.

 II.Plant health and the processes of international legal regulation from historical background to nowadays

In this part we will examine the different trends of plant protection based on legal and periodical framework.

II.1 From the prevention of the spread of plant pest to the protection of agricultural crops and other species

The devastation of vineyards and the wine industry in France and other European nations by the American vine louse was the impetus for the first international agreement to control plant pest which was the 1878 International Convention established to fight plant pests[7] and the International Phylloxera Convention of Berne[8], they aim consisted.

First, to define phytosanitary practices that shall be enforced by national plant protection services, these conventions attempted to prevent the introduction of plant diseases and pests into national territories.

Second, to standardize these practices especially through the design of a unique certificate of inspection the conventions attempted to eliminate barriers such as quarantines affecting international agricultural trade.

The lack of clear definitions of the terms prompted reconvening the international meeting, which reached agreement on a second Convention in 1881[9]. This second Convention, also signed in Berne, was in effect a revision and extension of the earlier one, and it also contained definitions of terms that had evidently caused problems in interpretation. Eight years later, in 1889, a third Convention was signed at Berne. Much progress was made in the sciences of plant pathology and entomology in the 19th and 20th centuries. Plant pests and their effects on crops were more acutely observed and widely recognized. In addition, the continued increase in international and in particular, intercontinental trade in plants and plant products also led to the spread of various pests. By this time more governments were beginning to take an interest in preventing the spread of serious plant pests, and national legislation was beginning to appear. An international conference in Rome in May 1905 resulted in support from 40 nations, who signed a convention giving birth to the establishment in Rome of the International Institute of Agriculture IIA[10], covering the areas of agricultural information, statistics, economic and social studies, a legal service and a library which aimed to enhance the better protection of plants.

The next step was the Rome 1914 International Phytopathological Conference followed fifteen years later by the 1929 International Plant Protection Convention where the plant issues expanded over Phylloxera to include other species. But the events surrounding World War II impeded the effectiveness of the 1929 Convention.

After the World War II was created the FAO that was established in 1945 as an UN specialized agency. Five years later, proposals for an international plant protection agreement was submitted by members, it was agreed as the International Plant Protection Convention IPPC[11] in September 1951 and was adopted during the Rome sixth session of the FAO Conference in November 1951. That led to the extension of the plant health issue at the international level[12].

II.2 The protection of plants with its related matters at the international level

Throughout the evolution, the trend has been expanded to other matters of plant protection. The IPPC that previously aimed to prevent the introduction and spread of pests and to promote appropriate measures to control plant products was extended to cover other insects of plants.

As the previous one, the current Convention has similar aims but expanded on more plants’ issues and species. The IPPC has a common interest with the SPS Agreement, since it covers the application of phytosanitary measures affecting international trade. However, it is distinct in having its own scope and objectives oriented towards plant protection rather than trade. One notable aspect of the revision was the extension of the IPPC definition of plants to cover another area such as forests and wild flora, thus clarifying the use of phytosanitary measures to safeguard non-commercial plants, which formerly were not specifically covered. Owing this reason, the plant health matter has received particular concern and deserved international regulations which specific institutions.


III. Legal Mechanisms and instruments protecting Plants

International phytosanitary activities today are governed by relatively few agreements and organizations principals among which are the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures under the World Trade Organization WTO established after the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade GATT, the IPPC, administered by a Commission on Phytosanitary Measures under the FAO[13] and the  CBD[14] administered under the United Nations Environment Programme UNEP[15].

Prior to the adoption of the 1997 revision of the IPPC by the requisite two-thirds of contracting parties, an Interim Commission on Phytosanitary Measures ICPM was established to administer it, pending agreement on the details of such a commission. The IPPC governs the development and adoption of the International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs), which are referred to by the WTO-SPS and satisfy its criteria, for international standards, but are established under the terms of the IPPC. The scope of the CBD includes alien species especially those that are considered invasive and genetically modified organisms and, therefore, where such organisms may be considered to be plant pests; it overlaps or interacts with the scope of the IPPC which deals with the protection of plants against pests spreading. Other international bodies important in phytosanitary affairs are the Regional Plant Protection Organizations, which relate to and operate under the IPPC.

There are also bilateral and multilateral agreements between individual governments, which may affect their international phytosanitary activities directly or indirectly.

III. 1. Sustainable Development Goals and Plant health.

The sustainable development goals of 2030[16] is associated with the issue of plant health in five (5) of its goals namely:

Goal 1 and 2: end poverty and zero hunger. Crop losses caused by plant pests and plant diseases induce poverty and hunger. These two goals are crucial and can be achieved by raising public awareness of plant health and their ability to recognize what destroys plants: pests and plant diseases. Identify the plant diseases and pests signs and be able to prevent its damages, otherwise there will not be food and poverty will still continue.

Goal 8: decent work and economic growth. The failure in protecting plant health and the spread of pests have severe impacts on works and economic growth. In Italy the spread of plant pests on olive plantations led to crop losses and impacted famer’s livelihood. This situation often occurred in several regions in the world.

Goals 13: climate action for plant health. Combating climate change is a necessity needed as ever. Good policies and climate measures should be taken to mitigate climate effects on plant health, enhance food productions.

Goal 15: life on land. This goal includes the preservation of biodiversity as in the spirit of the Biodiversity Convention which achievement can help to increase crop yields and ensure wellbeing on land[17].

III.2 Regional Mechanisms

Regional Plant Protection Organization RPPO[18] is an inter-governmental organization which functions as a coordinating body for National Plant Protection Organizations NPPO[19] on a regional level. Currently there are 10 Regional Plant Protection Organizations, which functions are mostly laid down in the Article IX of the IPPC and include:

Each RPPO has its own activities and programme. Each year, a technical consultation of representatives of RPPOs and the IPPC Secretariat is convened to encourage inter-regional consultation on harmonized phytosanitary measures to control and prevent the preventing of pests or their introduction into territories, and to promote the development and use of relevant ISPMs. To date, there have been more than 31 technical consultations, whose reports are made available on the IPPC. Each regional organization has its own legislation related to plant protection. Although RPPOs make recommendations to their member countries, these are not legally binding, although their members have a moral obligation to respect such recommendations. However, for some groups of countries, legally binding regional agreements have been reached.

In Europe, all member countries of the EU agreed to harmonize their plant health regulations into a single, commonly applied set of regulations relating to traded plants, plant products and other regulated articles. A series of regulations, of which the most important is the Council Directive 2000/29/EC[20], concern both imported commodities and commodities moved within and between member states. They also concern operational procedures, such as inspection, surveillance, reporting and control, with harmonization of procedures being facilitated by a Standing Committee on Plant Health and permanent European Commission staff, which include Community phytosanitary inspectors.

In South America the MERCOSUR group of countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) does not have harmonized regulations but agree that their national regulations respect common standards established under COSAVE, the RPPO for their region. Such cooperation promotes increased confidence in their respective plant health systems and ensures that trade restrictions are minimal, thus facilitating freer trade between the MERCOSUR countries. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) also facilitates freer trade between its three member countries, Canada, Mexico and the USA.

This is based on the agreement to respect international standards and North American regional standards (those developed by NAPPO).

NAPPO also offers technical support to the NAFTA-SPS Committee in the area of plant health. Thus, although the individual countries maintain their sovereign right to establish national plant health measures, the confidence established through their cooperative procedures means that, for trade between the member countries, these can be kept to a minimum.

Africa, through The Maputo declaration recognizes the need to act together with strong policies to prevent the spread and introduction of pests of plants and plant products as well as the need to promote appropriate measures for their control and therefore re-echoes the IPPC in its mission to the IAPSC.



It is known that climate change has adverse effects on plants health and that phenomenon is expected to continue following the current environmental conditions.

The impact of climate change on disease for a given plant species will depend on the nature of the effects that climate change has on both the host and its pathogens. If changes in atmospheric composition and global climate continue in the future as predicted, there will be relocation of crops and their diseases and impacts will be felt in economic terms from crop loss, these impacts are predicted to be severe for developing countries if nothing is done to halt it. The fight against plant pests was the origin for the adoption of policies which continue to be developed till now but the lack of implementation of adequate measures to prevent plant diseases remains the main challenge that plant health face today. It is difficult to totally secure the international movement of plants and plant products that’s why it is necessary for trade organizations, governments etc. which deal with plants protection to adopt better politics aiming to limit the spreading of plant pests, to facilitate the adaptation of plants to climate change in the face of pathologies caused by global warning and the increase in pests and to mitigate its impacts on plants, to increase the modeling of ecosystem dynamics, in particular agricultural ecosystem, to bring together and accelerate research on plant health, review agricultural and forestry policies, raise awareness of how phytosanitary protection can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment and boost economic development. In the 21st Century there is a need to protect growers or the environment from burdens on their well-being and to involve stakeholders in the decision making process.


About the author:

Saa Caleb MILLIMONO, master’s student, department of International Protection of Human Rights. People’s Friendship University of Russia RUDN.


[1] The stem, black, and cereal rusts are caused by the fungus Puccinia graminis and are a significant disease affecting cereal crops.

[2] Principles of Plant Health and Quarantine – Cabi Publishing, David. Ebbels Wallingford — UK, 2003, Concepts of plant health – reviewing and challenging the foundations of plant protection, British Society for Plant Pathology, T.F. Doring, M. Pautasso, M.R. Finckhc and M.S. Wolfe February 2012.

[3] New standards to curb the global spread of plant pests and diseases. http://www.fao.org/plant-health-2020/about/en/ International Year of Plant health, FAO 2020.

[4] Solntsev A.M. CLIMATE CHANGE: INTERNATIONAL LEGAL DIMENSION. Moscow Journal of International Law. 2018;106(1):60-78. (In Russ.) https://doi.org/10.24833/0869-0049-2018-1-60-78

[5] Impacts of climate change on plant diseases-opinions and trends — European Journal of Plant Pathology. Marco Pautasso, Thomas F. Döring, Matteo Garbelotto, Lorenzo Pellis & Mike J. Jeger – Springer Link — (2012) volume 133.

[6] Solntsev A. (2020) Priotkryvaya yashchik Pandory: analiz mneniya Komiteta po pravam cheloveka o “klimaticheskikh” bezhentsakh 2020 goda [Half-opening Pandora’s box: review of the Human Rights Committee’s 2020 view on climate refugees]. Mezhdunarodnoe pravosudie, vol.10, no.3, pp.41–54. (In Russian).

[7] 1878 Convention on Measures To Be Taken Against Phylloxera Vastatrix http://opil.ouplaw.com.libproxy.uoregon.edu/view/10.1093/law:oht/law-oht…

[8] Principles of Plant Health and Quarantine – Cabi Publishing, David. Ebbels Wallingford — UK, 2003.

[9] This was the first international agreement describing measures to be taken against plant pests was the Convention on Phylloxera vastatrix of 3 November 1881, followed by the additional Convention signed at Berne on 15 April 1889, and by the International Convention for the Protection of Plants.

[10] The International Institute of Agriculture (IIA) was founded in Rome in 1905 by the King of Italy Victor Emmanuel III with the intent of creating a clearinghouse for collection of agricultural statistics. It was created primarily due to the efforts of David Lubin. In 1930, the IIA published the first world agricultural census. After World War II, both its assets and mandate were handed over to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

[11] The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) is a 1951 multilateral treaty overseen by the Food and Agriculture Organization that aims to secure coordinated, effective action to prevent and to control the introduction and spread of pests of plants and plant products. https://www.ippc.int/en/.

[12] Principles of Plant Health and Quarantine – Cabi Publishing, David. Ebbels Wallingford — UK, 2003

[13]  For example, see the Food & Agricultural Organization of the United Nations http://www.fao.org/

[14] The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an international treaty adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 , with three main goals: A — Biodiversity conservation; B — The sustainable use of its elements;  C — The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the exploitation of genetic resources http://www.cbd.int/.

[15] The United Nations Environment Program is an organization dependent on the United Nations, created in 1972, with the aim of: coordinating the activities of the United Nations in the field of the environment; assist countries in implementing environmental policies

[16] Abashidze A., Solntsev A., Kiseleva E., Koneva A., Kruglov D. Achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (2016-2030): International Legal Dimension // Indian Journal of Science and Technology Vol 9(37). 2016. — P. 1-9

[17] For example, see the sdgs UN goals.

[18] See Regional Plant Protection Organization https://www.ippc.int/index.php?id=13310&L=0

[19] For example, see the National Plant Protection Organization https://www.ippc.int/index.php?id=1110520&no_


[20] Council Directive 2000/29/EC are European protective measures against the introduction into the Community of organisms harmful to plants or plant products and against their spread within the Community https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=celex%3A32000L0029

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