Global Environmental Governance: Introduction
“We understand global environmental governance (GEG) as the sum of organizations, policy instruments, financing mechanisms, rules, procedures and norms that regulate the processes of global environmental protection.”
“There is great awareness of environmental threats and numerous efforts have emerged to address them globally. At the same time—and partly because of the rather spectacular growth in awareness and initiatives—the GEG system has outgrown its original design and intent.”
“Even though the GEG system has achieved much in the way of new treaties, more money and a more participatory and active system than anyone might have imagined three decades ago, environmental degradation continues.”
We understand global environmental governance (GEG) as the sum of organizations, policy instruments, financing mechanisms, rules, procedures and norms that regulate the processes of global environmental protection. Since environmental issues entered the international agenda in the early 1970s, global environmental politics and policies have been developing rapidly. The environmental governance system we have today reflects both the successes and failures of this development. There is great awareness of environmental threats and numerous efforts have emerged to address them globally. At the same time—and partly because of the rather spectacular growth in awareness and initiatives—the GEG system has outgrown its original design and intent. The system’s high maintenance needs, its internal redundancies and its inherent inefficiencies have combined to have the perverse effect of distracting from the most important GEG goal of all—improved environmental performance.
Even though the GEG system has achieved much in the way of new treaties, more money and a more participatory and active system than anyone might have imagined three decades ago, environmental degradation continues. Indeed, because we know so much more about environmental conditions and environmental processes, we also know more about what is not going well with the global environment. This state of affairs is well documented in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2006). For example, despite the feverish discussions about global climate change, carbon emissions continue to rise; global atmospheric CO2 levels that were around 300 parts per million (ppm) in the early 1900s have now reached approximately 380 ppm. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment also found that approximately 60 per cent of the ecosystems that it examined were either being degraded or used unsustainably. Since 1980, 35 per cent of the world’s mangroves have been lost and 20 per cent of the world’s precious coral reefs have been destroyed. A decade after the signing of the Biodiversity Convention, the species extinction rate is still 1,000 times higher than what would be occurring naturally, without human impact. Despite the dozens of global and regional fisheries treaties, an estimated 90 per cent of the total weight of large predators in the oceans—such as tuna, sharks and swordfish—have disappeared over the last few decades. Estimates suggest that we may still be losing as much as 150,000 square kilometres of forest each year.
Given increasing evidence of environmental degradation, the system needs reform urgently. However, it should be noted that the system needs reform not because it has “failed,” but because it has outgrown its own original design. Much like children who outgrow their clothes as they mature, or small towns that need new infrastructure as they blossom into large cities, the GEG system needs to be rethought so that it can meet the challenges of its own growth, respond to future issues and move from its current emphasis on awareness-raising and treaty creation to actual environmental action and implementation.
This book seeks to identify a number of practical steps that can foster a more efficient and effective environmental regime, making better use of the resources available and designed in a way that will be more helpful to the implementation of international environmental agreements for developing as well as developed countries. The project objectives are:
- to analyze past and current efforts at GEG reform;
- to outline a practical overall direction for rationalized GEG in a bottom-up reform of the international environmental governance system; and
- to propose a set of realistic and desirable steps to achieve meaningful reform.
We begin from the obvious but important premise that the objective of GEG reform is not simply institutional harmony and efficiency; it is to bring about tangible environmental improvement and positive movement towards the ultimate goal of sustainable development. In identifying our recommendations, we have consciously sought ideas that might lead us to: (a) a balance between short-term incremental improvements and deeper-rooted, longer-term institutional change; (b) improved implementation of existing environmental instruments and improved effectiveness of existing institutions, including better coordination among them; (c) better incorporation of non-state actors; (d) meaningful mainstreaming of the environmental and sustainable development agenda into other policy streams; and (e) greater prominence and confidence in global environmental institutions and initiatives among international leaders and within public opinion.
To make this a manageable exercise, we will focus on environmental governance. However, we understand and very much identify with the needs to contextualize environmental governance within the framework of sustainable development. We believe that global environmental governance is a key component of sustainable development governance, but the latter is larger than the former. Our focus is on the former within the context of the latter. Similarly, we are convinced that the efficacy of global environmental governance will ultimately depend on implementation at global and domestic levels. National implementation is the ultimate key, both to the efficacy of the GEG system and to meaningful environmental improvements. However, for the purpose of this study, we will focus principally on the global and institutional aspects of GEG reform, including efforts to create the support for domestic implementation, but not including the considerable challenges of domestic implementation. That is a very important issue—one worthy of serious study—but lies beyond the scope and mandate of this current research.
The analysis and recommendations contained in this book are the result of literature reviews and consultations with an Advisory Group of experts who brought a wealth of experience from international organizations, governments, civil society and academia. The Advisory Group met twice—in Boston, USA, in October 2005, and in Copenhagen, Denmark, in March 2006—to discuss issues related to reforming the GEG system.
Members of the Advisory Group have all served in their individual capacities and their insights and inputs have informed and influenced all aspects of this study. However, the content of the study is entirely the responsibility of the authors and no other institutional or individual endorsement is either implied or intended. Members of the Advisory Group included: Adnan Amin (Kenya); Pamela S. Chasek (USA); Erik Fiil (Denmark); George Greene (Canada); Mark Halle (USA/Italy); Benoît Martimort-Asso (France); William Moomaw (USA); Kilaparti Ramakrishna (India); Philippe Roch (Switzerland); David Runnalls (Canada); Mukul Sanwal (India); Youba Sokona (Mali); and Detlef Sprinz (Germany).
This book seeks to do three things.
First, Chapter 1 seeks to organize some of the lessons from the recent debates on GEG reform, including how the system has evolved, the types of problems that have been identified, the various models for reform that have been proposed, and a snapshot of previous and ongoing initiatives for GEG reform.
Next, Chapter 2 builds upon the above and analyzes in much greater detail the six key areas of concern, or challenges that have been generally identified as priorities for GEG reform. We approach this diagnosis with the goals of (a) identifying the extent of the challenge (whether the identified problem is, in fact, critical); and (b) highlighting available best practice in dealing with the challenge.
Finally, Chapter 3 begins outlining a menu of reform proposals that build upon the diagnosis and seeks to identify short- and long-term recommendations that are both doable and worth doing and are likely to bring about meaningful and practical reform of the global environmental system.
- ^ Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005. Ecosystems and Human Wellbeing: Synthesis. Washington DC: Island Press. Accessed in March 2006.
This is a chapter from Global Environmental Governance: A Reform Agenda (e-book).
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