Functions Needed for Environmental Governance: What Functions Do You Think Are Important?
This section is designed to facilitate a broader discussion about the functions needed for effective global environmental governance in the future. After you have read through the descriptions of possible functions, please share your ideas by taking part in our online poll.
To produce more effective environmental agreements, global environmental governance must perform a series of functions well. Before discussing the appropriate organizational structure to achieve that, we should consider first what functions are most important.
Environmental compacts won't move forward, for instance, without developing scientific data and analysis to identify a problem, its likely consequences, and some alternative paths to a solution. Some academic experts, such as William Clark of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, argue that science may offer a smoother road to consensus on thorny environmental issues than politics. Calestous Juma of the Center for International Development at Harvard argues that the failure to bring science "into environmental governance and implementation is possibly the most important institutional failure of modern times."
"Science makes the environment speak," says Dartmouth's Von Moltke. Without a scientific consensus, the Montreal Protocol that phased down CFC use would never have been negotiated. Many of the international agreements of the last 30 years have stalled, in part, due to a lack of data and scientific analysis that would justify action.
The scientific resources devoted to a host of other problems are dwarfed by the need, says Von Moltke. He proposes establishing a revolving fund at UNEP that would devote $15 million a year to a specific scientific problem. One year it might be desertification; the next it might be marine pollution.
What functions must be performed by any international environmental structure of governance? Here is a list of some that have been called critical. Please click on the "OTHER" button to suggest additions.
Priority Setting/Strategic Planning
Considering the broad scope of problems/issues and diverse interests among governments, international organizations, and private sector groups, a body or structure must encourage the major actors, as well as the interested and affected parties, to agree to work toward goals that go beyond narrow national interests to pursue larger, international or global benefits. Some basic consensus is critical to progress in international negotiations and to encourage individual government actions, particularly where differences are substantial.
Coordination/Integration of Policies and Activities
The existence of hundreds of binding and non-binding multilateral environmental agreements as well as overlapping interests in international environmental problems and issues create a complex (and confusing) landscape for policy decisionmakers. A global environmental governance body or structure that aims to improve coordination and integration of policies and activities among treaties and governments could reduce redundancy and contradictions. It would have to bring together governments, international organizations, and interested and affected parties in the private sector to ensure that strategies, policies, and actions are coherent and effective.
Data collection includes early warning, monitoring, and analysis. All are critical to understanding the state of the environment and the rate of change, identify gaps in knowledge, build consensus, and choose appropriate policy responses to problems. To be useful, any database must assure the quality of its data as well as its quantity. Collection will have to be done by qualified persons using the same sampling techniques and standards. And data from different time and space will need to be integrated, stored, and disseminated.
Governments enter into international environmental agreements, treaties, and protocols for actions at home and overseas. These intergovernmental agreements are bilateral and multilateral, with the latter often requiring broad acceptance to be effective.
Standard setting facilitates assessment of progress toward environmentally sound practices. Standards also aid the collection and sharing of data and information. A global environmental governance body or structure could give guidance or assistance to developing countries, in particular, to develop standards and to cultivate the capacity to apply them. At the same time many corporations have adopted voluntary, non-binding standards for guidance in environmental management. Environmental advocacy groups, too, are using standards as a way to encourage green consumption and using the public's buying power to pressure industry to adopt more environmentally sound practices.
Compliance and Assistance
Rules (treaties, protocols, agreements) are not good if no one complies with them. Enforcement mechanisms are often lacking in the international arena. Since no institution has the power or authority to sanction national governments, compliance depends largely on the voluntary actions of national governments. In other words, governments are driven by incentives rather than penalties. Incentives in the form of financial assistance and technology transfer are most commonly called for to aid countries to acquire the capacity to respond to international environmental threats and their global environmental responsibilities.
International disputes involving environmental issues have increased because of the mainstreaming of the environment in practically all policies. Yet, effective mechanisms to handle them are in sore shortage. Examples are the clashes between governments and interested parties over protection of turtles and fishery techniques under the GATT and World Trade Organization.
If you think there is one or more important functions not listed here, this is your opportunity to let us know.
Next section: Future Paths: A Look at Four Leading Concepts