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Future Paths:
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 urgent."

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 undermines implementation.

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.

Boost UNEP

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 environmental organization.

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 governing council.

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 system.

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.

Clusters/Environmental Alliances

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 integration."

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 organizations.

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 development.

"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."

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New World, Old Order?: Front Page
Finding Global Environmental Solutions
The Evolving Context of Global Environmental Governance
Greater Transparency and Participation by Civil Society
Functions Needed for Environmental Governance: What Functions Do You Think Are Important?
Future Paths: A Look at Four Leading Concepts

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