A Look at Four Leading Concepts
What organizational structure would best perform those functions? Here are four
of the leading concepts:
Global Environmental Organization
Some prominent voices have called for the formation of a powerful world
environment organization. French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and President
Jacques Chirac have called for creating one global environmental agency to pull
together and push forward many environmental agreements. Germany, Brazil,
Singapore, and South Africa have called for such an organization. The idea was
even backed by Renato Ruggiero in 1999, when he served as executive director of
the World Trade Organization.
The idea has been pushed for years by a network of people from academic
institutions led by Yale's Prof. Esty, who prefers calling it a Global
Environmental Organization, or GEO. A group convened in New York City by Esty's
Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy claimed a GEO could cure the
fragmentation of policymaking between the United Nations Environment Programme,
The United Nations Development Programme, the Commission on Sustainable
Development, and the diaspora of international bodies that oversee environmental
compacts, each in a different city.
"The global environmental governance structure is inadequate for the pollution
and resource challenges the world faces today," the group opined. Calling the
current regime "weak and performing poorly," participants concluded, "The
growing recognition that a number of serious pollution control and resource
management issues are inherently transboundary in their scope makes the status
quo unacceptable and the need for improved global environmental governance
Esty contends that a GEO would provide more leadership and focus on
international environmental issues. An overarching organization could also boost
the exchange of ideas between the staffs of various secretariats, he says. A
single location would make it easier for less-developed countries to staff
negotiations and meetings, which currently are dispersed in time and place. And
it could serve as an advocate for advancing environmental treaties that have run
aground. If headed by a prominent figure, a GEO could "lead governments toward
reaching agreements," says Yale's Speth. Others look to it to pressure the World
Trade Organization to give greater weight to environmental agreements.
GEO critics decry another bureaucracy and say it might distract from the
important drive to get existing organizations to integrate environmental
analysis into their decisionmaking. Others say it may achieve little in a world
where consensus develops slowly. Harvard's Juma, for instance, says that the
failure to make environmental progress may have caused the proliferation of
conventions, rather than the other way around. He doubts that proliferation
In response to critics of big, clumsy bureaucracies, Esty argues that a global
environmental organization needs not be hierarchical and centralized, and might
operate more like a network. "It might be decentralized and might even be
virtual," he said. "You want a structure that encourages those that have a role
to play to come and play it."
Some GEO backers had hoped that the Millennium Summit of the UN in September
2000 would grapple with environmental governance and propose new solutions. But
the hundreds of speeches barely touched on the subject. Instead, Esty looks to
the tenth anniversary of the Rio Summit in 2002 as the next forum where nations
can consider a global environmental organization.
The governments of Germany, Brazil, Singapore, and South Africa are among
those that have called for revitalizing UNEP to serve as some kind of global
UNEP's leadership sounds amenable. In late 2000, UNEP Executive Director Klaus
Topfer called for the world's nations to strengthen UN institutions at the UN's
Earth Summit in 2002, on the tenth anniversary of the biodiversity conference in
Rio de Janeiro. "All of us must urge our leaders at the Summit to renew their
commitment to the UN and to equip it with the necessary tools and resources to
meet the unprecedented challenges of the New Millennium."
Topfer said UNEP stood ready to work with all parties to catalyze a new regime
of environmental regulations, policies, and partnerships that could address the
negative aspects of globalization.
But even while Topfer is credited with strengthening UNEP, many observers doubt
that it is capable of playing a strong, leading role. Critics blame its charter,
budget, structure, past leadership, and even its Nairobi location.
UNEP's budget is smaller than that of some U.S.-based nongovernmental
environmental groups. Developing nations feared it might become a global agency
that would deter their development in the name of environmental protection. They
founded it as a creature of the UN General Assembly, which is dominated by less-
developed countries, and put it under the direction of an unwieldy, 58-state
Given a general charter to solve environmental problems, UNEP has dissipated its
efforts in all directions. To be a strong advocate and coordinator, its critics
say UNEP would need a coherent and manageable mission, more funds, more
independence from the General Assembly, and a more streamlined leadership
Some observers suggest merging UNEP and the much larger and better-funded UNDP.
But that combination might face some of the same concerns that have restrained
UNEP; poorer nations would want assurances that development programs would not
lose any resources to environmental programs or be constrained by them.
Calestous Juma, a Harvard professor and former UNEP official, argues that a
global environmental organization is unnecessary and may get entangled in
bureaucracy. Saying that a global environmental agency would be "too cumbersome
to work," he notes that centralized, hierarchical UN agencies are widely
regarded as inefficient, and that UN agencies are increasingly relying on
networks of other parties.
"The strength of the treaties lies in the fact that they give more power and
authority to governments and citizens, not to centralized UN agencies," Juma
wrote to the Financial Times of London.
Juma's lack of confidence in the United Nations is widely shared. Oran Young, a
Dartmouth College professor and director of its Institute of International
Environmental Governance, notes that post-cold war euphoria about UN leadership
is "giving way to mounting skepticism about the capacity of the United Nations
to cope with an array of pressing problems."
Currently, each environmental agreement is overseen by a conference of the
parties, which delegates duties to a secretariat, scientific advisory body, and
other organizations. Instead of a new hierarchical organization to coordinate
these bodies, he calls for greater coordination between them in what he calls
"environmental alliances" or "clusters." Bodies implementing the Convention on
Biodiversity, for instance, already work closely with those in charge of the
Ramsar Convention on wetlands of international significance. Those two
conventions could work with CITES and other conventions to draft consensus
standards for sustainable uses of land.
The clusters or environmental alliances have many supporters. Dartmouth's von
Moltke, for instance, prefers them to a single, new organization for
environmental issues. The U.S., he notes, does not give all environmental
authority to one agency. Rather it spreads that authority around among several.
Internationally, "five GEOs might be a good idea, dealing with different
environmental issues," says von Moltke.
Clusters and alliances have been widely discussed, with some advocates calling
for various environmental agreement bodies to be brought together physically in
one location. One advantage of these, some advocates say, is they could reduce
the need for negotiators to fly around the globe from one site to the next for
interrelated talks, which can be particularly difficult for small nations with
limited budgets. Co-located secretariats could also share information and
techniques for solving problems and work out potential conflicts. But clustering
and alliances are ill-defined and face some of the same resistance as a GEO.
Any effort to pull together many staffs into one organization will face bitter
resistance, Juma notes. Employees fear losing influence or even their jobs.
Conference members would lose authority.
And a host of questions entangle the idea. For instance, how would the
clustering of secretariats and new alliances with others be structured and
promote cooperation? One cluster or alliance might combine multilateral
environmental agreements dealing with atmosphere, such as the Kyoto Protocol on
climate change or the Vienna Convention for Protection of the Ozone Layer and
its Montreal Protocol. Forestry, biodiversity, and wetland agreements might be
joined in a cluster. Chemical pollution issues might be clustered, as might
marine issues or land-use issues.
However they are arranged, clusters and alliances are sure to overlap. Climate
change, for instance, can greatly affect biodiversity; forest and land-use
choices can influence climate, desertification, and agriculture.
How should clusters cooperate? Should they have common staffs to coordinate
them? Who will serve as the advocate for new negotiations? Clustering advocates
have many questions to answer.
Combination of Approaches
Inertia alone may make major structural changes difficult in the near future,
and some observers say that may not be such a bad thing.
A new, global environmental organization may make little difference, said a
report from London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs. GEO
proposals, wrote Joy Hyvarinen and Duncan Brack, "have suffered from a
significant lack of detail and a failure to explain why the creation of a new
global environmental organization would make any difference to the underlying
problems of a lack of resources, a lack of political will, and inadequate policy
More effective environmental agreement implementation and better communications
may be more important than structure. Some observers argue that reform efforts
are better expended on making existing institutions work better.
Many voices are calling for strengthening the enforcement and implementation of
existing multilateral environmental agreements and new scrutiny of government
subsidies, including export credit loans and water rates, that lead to
environmental damage. Both are easy to say, hard to do.
Others say environmental analysis should be integrated into existing bodies.
Rather than setting up a new organization to lobby nations, trade and
multilateral banking agencies, David Reed of the World Wide Fund for Nature
argues that those institutions would respond better if their own bureaucracies
acquired expertise on environmental issues.
"The World Bank should increase its capacity to collect environmental data, to
monitor trends in environmental performance and issues, to share information
with the broader public, and to help develop strategies for addressing
environmental problems," contends Reed. No other international institution, he
says, "is better positioned or in command of such an extensive range of
resources" to address environmental problems.
The WTO, IMF, and the multilateral banks also need to integrate environmental
considerations into their project planning and evaluations, critics say. And
this will happen, some say, only if member nations first integrate environmental
analysis into their own trade and aid policies and negotiation strategies.
Real progress will be difficult without a strong commitment by the United States
to multilateral environmental agreements. In a globe with diffuse environmental
authority, the importance of the world's dominant economic and military power is
hard to overstate. And to win developing countries' cooperation and support, any
new thrust toward environmental agreements will have to be greased with aid from
the developed countries to those countries that can least afford short-term
sacrifices and new technology needed for sustainable economic development.
One way to make that integration effective is to open national and
international proceedings to scrutiny and participation from private sector
The United Nations has been moving in that direction. Secretary-General Kofi
Annan has praised "global policy networks" of governments, civil society groups,
and corporations as "the most promising partnerships of our globalizing age." He
looks to them to help lead the world community of nations toward sustainable
"They work for inclusion and reject hierarchy. They help set agendas and frame
debates. They develop understanding and disseminate knowledge. They allow for
stronger, broader consensus on new global standards. They help implement and
monitor those standards once they are agreed. They raise public consciousness
and speak to our conscience."
Such multifaceted networks are, Annan said, "one of the ways we can strengthen
the bonds of our global community."