Global Environmental Governance: Preface by Carsten Staur

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Is the system of global environmental governance a success or a failure? What are the salient features of the system and what are the challenges it faces? And given the history of the debate and attempts to restructure and improve global environmental governance, what would be the elements of reform that are both practical and realistic?

These are some of the key questions addressed in this study, which was prepared under the auspices of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and led by Professor Adil Najam from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, drawing on the advice from an international group of experts.

The study shows that an impressive institutional machinery has actually been built, but also that the overall state of the global environment seems not to have improved as a consequence of this. Numerous multilateral environmental agreements have been concluded; many meetings are held each year to advance implementation; and significant amounts of human resources are spent to produce national reports on the efforts undertaken. Yet, as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have shown us, ecosystem decline and global warming continue, representing real dangers to our planet.

The study attempts to show us a way out of this paradoxical situation. Rather than getting bogged down by the findings of fragmentation and incoherence, insufficient cooperation and coordination, inefficiency and lack of implementation, the study sees these features as an expression of a system that has outgrown itself in the wake of its own success. And, rather than proposing grand organizational reforms, the study proposes to work with the existing pieces.

It is refreshing to see an attempt to link the smallest, most specific item of short-term change with an overall longer-term vision. As the study points out, there seems to be broad international support of the five goals, which constitute the basis of a vision for the global environmental governance system. These are leadership, knowledge, coherence, performance and mainstreaming.

Within such a longer-term guiding framework, the study proposes specific steps of reform which are meant to mutually support each other and pave the way for more far-reaching reform.

Without attempting to comment on each of the goals within the longer-term vision, the need to integrate global environmental objectives in national sustainable development and poverty reduction strategies should be highlighted. Without such integration in broader policy frameworks, including the identification of concrete win-win situations and informed decisions on how to manage trade-offs between differing objectives, it is difficult to imagine how to overcome the paradox of institutional success and environmental degradation.

The study is published at an important juncture. Reforms of the institutional framework for environmental governance at the global level are subject to renewed deliberations at the UN General Assembly, when reforms leading to system-wide coherence across the UN family involved in humanitarian, development and environment operations at the country-level are being proposed by a distinguished panel of heads of state and government, ministers and other eminent persons.

I want to thank the President and CEO of IISD, David Runnalls, the staff at IISD, Professor Adil Najam and his colleagues Mihaela Papa and Nadaa Taiyab, as well as the members of the international expert advisory group for all the efforts made in preparing this important study. I sincerely hope that the study will get the attention it deserves and that it will prove useful in the ongoing reform processes.

Carsten Staur
State Secretary, Ambassador
Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Back to TOC: Global Environmental Governance: A Reform Agenda



Najam, A., & Development, I. (2007). Global Environmental Governance: Preface by Carsten Staur. Retrieved from


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