Bergen Informal Ministerial Meeting
15 - 17 September 2000
International Environmental Institutions:
Where from Here?
International Environmental Institutions:
Where from Here?
Discussion Paper Prepared by Canada
The 21st century will be a century of increasing globalization. This process, entailing economic and social integration as well as the transformation of international relations and institutions, represents a new phase in the ordering of global affairs. A central challenge is ensuring that globalization can become a positive force for all the world’s people and that its benefits are more evenly distributed.
Over the past half-century, in response to post-war realities, we have seen the creation of the United Nations, the Bretton Woods Institutions, the World Trade Organization and a host of other organizations whose job it has been to bring peace, security and stability to the world and to make multilateral cooperation work. Yet, as United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said in his report to the Millennium Assembly, “while the post-war multilateral system made it possible for the new globalization to emerge and flourish, globalization, in turn, has progressively rendered its designs antiquated.” In his report, he challenges world leaders to think about how international institutions can adapt to globalization and suggests that the status quo is no longer sufficient.
When looking at this larger global governance challenge through an environmental lens, one can recall that considerable progress has been made since 1972, when world leaders met, in Stockholm, to address environmental issues for the first time. That global conference led to the creation of environmental ministries throughout the world, established the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), stimulated the creation of a solid body of international environmental law, and led to the birth of a number of non-governmental organizations promoting environmental issues. Looking back over the period since 1972, there is clear evidence that concerted multilateral cooperation has resulted in significant progress toward safeguarding the environment for future generations. The international community should be proud of the gains it has made. There are few other areas of policy making that have achieved so much through international cooperation in so few years.
In 2002, world leaders will gather to mark several milestones: anniversary of the UN Conference on the Human Environment and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the 15th anniversary of the watershed report “Our Common Future”, and the 10th anniversary of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED).
At the inaugural UNEP Global Ministerial Environment Forum, held in Malmö, Sweden, in May 2000, Environment Ministers reflected on the opportunities and challenges associated with 2002. One of the key messages emerging from Malmö relates to the capacity of international environmental institutions to meet the challenges of the new century. The Malmö Ministerial Declaration reflects a growing consensus that a lack of coherence and coordination among international agreements and institutions poses a major impediment to global sustainable development. The Declaration states:
“The 2002 conference should review the requirements for a greatly strengthened institutional structure for international environmental governance based on an assessment of future needs for an institutional architecture that has the capacity to effectively address wide-ranging environmental threats in a globalizing world. UNEP’s role in this regard should be strengthened and its financial base broadened and made more predictable.” (Malmö Ministerial Declaration)
International environmental governance is certain to be central to preparations for Rio +10 given its importance to effective international collaboration and the urgent need to strengthen such collaboration. The time is ripe to take stock of the world’s environmental institutions – their impact, successes and failings – and determine if they should move in a bold new direction.
This paper provides the basis for a ministerial dialogue on strengthening international environmental institutions. It does not provide a definitive assessment of existing international institutions nor does it analyze potential options for change.
An Overview of the Global Environmental Agenda
We need effective institutions to support and guide the international community in protecting the global environment and promoting sustainable development into the 21st century. But we must first understand the global context in which countries function and describe some of the realities of international environmental policy. Highlights include:
There is no doubt that the environmental agenda of the 1960s and 1970s has expanded and grown in complexity. Today, it can be argued that the most crucial challenge to achieving environmental results is integration – integration of the environmental science and policy agenda itself as well as integration of this environmental perspective into the larger agendas of sustainable development and economic globalization.
Existing Institutional Machinery
The existing institutional machinery for international environmental matters consists of various elements, most notably:
Rationale for Strengthening International Environmental Institutions
International environmental institutions are staffed by committed professionals. It is through international institutions that information is shared, negotiations are conducted, norms and standards are elaborated and common action plans can be pursued. However, despite its many achievements, the existing machinery remains fragmented, often with vague mandates, inadequate resources and marginal political support. Competing for scarce funds and political commitment, existing institutions are frequently torn between competing priorities which are driven by overlapping and unfocused demands. Weak support and scattered direction have left institutions less effective than they could be, while demands on their resources continue to grow.
With the dawning of the era of globalization, many people point to the World Trade Organization (WTO) as the kind of powerful, authoritative organization upon which to model international environmental institutions. However, it is important to recall that when the WTO was born, the trade agenda had been maturing for 50 years or more. Today, the WTO’s great strength lies in the fact that it is an umbrella for international trade agreements and features compulsory and binding dispute resolution mechanisms. Even still, the WTO faces many challenges, particularly concerning the interface between the trade agenda and other areas like environment, labour and culture. To meet these challenges, the WTO is reaching out to stakeholders and making its operations more transparent. Clearly, however, environmental policy is not a core competence of the WTO. A strong and effective international environmental regime is essential to ensuring that environmental policies and considerations are integrated into the trade agenda.
Given the expanding environmental agenda and the fragmented approach to international action, the international community needs to consider whether the existing international institutional machinery can confront the challenges of the 21st century. Building on the UN and UNEP reform efforts since 1997, should we also consider a more fundamental restructuring of existing governance mechanisms and institutions, including the creation of a centralized environmental authority?
The basic premise for charting a new course for institutional strengthening is that existing institutions do not (or will not) adequately address current and future needs. The following questions may help to determine whether the existing machinery is adequate:
Specific Areas of Emphasis for Institutional Strengthening
A number of critical areas require strengthening, namely, the international legal framework, the financial framework, the accountability framework and policy capacity. The question of political will and influence also needs examination. Each of these areas is discussed below.
International Legal Framework
The international community realized long ago that multilateralism was essential to protecting the environment. Today, hundreds of agreements and cooperation arrangements to address environmental problems exist. They constitute a body of international law that, in theory, governs countries’ domestic activities as well as international relations, facilitating cooperation and sound environmental management within and across borders. Yet there has been minimal effort to take stock of current MEAs and little consideration of how the “next generation” of MEAs might emerge. At least four issues concerning the effectiveness of MEAs could be examined as part of overall international institutional strengthening
Total resources to support the existing environmental machinery have grown since the late 1980s, particularly with the creation of the Global Environment Facility, the Multilateral Fund for the Montreal Protocol and the emergence of conventions on climate change, desertification and biological diversity. During this same period, particularly post-UNCED, the resources dedicated to UNEP (primarily through its Environment Fund) began to decline. Do governments understand the funding situation of the international environmental machinery? Is the total amount of spending adequate? How does UNEP compare with other international organizations? Is the existing voluntary funding arrangement for UNEP adequate? Are countries ready for an assessed scale of contributions for the Environment Fund? Are monies being invested in the appropriate activities? Is there value for money?
Effective management, information, finance, human resources, and communications systems are essential to organizational life. Does institutional strengthening offer opportunities in this regard? Are the appropriate governance structures in place for reporting on financial and program results? Are the existing accountability and reporting mechanisms sufficient and responsive?
Governments have a role to play but are no longer the only actors in global environmental affairs. What is an appropriate role for civil society, the business community and other international actors? How can these roles be accommodated?
Recalling the realities of globalization, there is a need to systematically improve laws, agreements, policies, economic instruments, standards and institutions. Where are the knowledge gaps in international environmental policy? How can they best be filled? Is international environmental policy relevant to national policy makers?
International institutions, operating in an arena in which the primary actors are sovereign states, have the authority and influence which national governments give them. Financial resources and a sound institutional structure, while important, do not determine the effectiveness of a given institution. Is there a desire to create a single forum for dispute resolution on environmental issues? Is it reasonable to expect that strengthened environmental machinery will shift the policy balance in favour of sustainable development and counterbalance the predominance of economic institutions?
Options for Institutional Change
Varying degrees of institutional strengthening and change are possible, some much more ambitious than others. In essence, the debate concerns the relative merits of further centralized governance and decision-making through the creation of a new organization – which some have identified as a World Environment Organization (WEO) – versus a decentralized but strengthened system similar to that which currently exists. While much has been written about strengthening the existing UN system, particularly in the context of UN and UNEP reform there has been no detailed analysis and assessment of alternative options like a WEO.
Ideally, debates on form (i.e. institutional and financial matters) should follow discussions on function (i.e. mandate and authority). Questions about mandate and authority should precede any debate about institutional structures themselves.
To help shape the discussion on the strengthening of international environmental institutions, issues have been grouped into two broad categories: mandate and authorities; and institutional and financial matters.
Mandate and Authorities
Institutional and Financial Matters
Conclusion – Looking Ahead to 2002
Placing this topic on the agenda for the Bergen Informal Ministerial Meeting suggests that there may be a desire to explore institutional strengthening as part of the Rio +10 process. If this is the case, it could be helpful to consider the next steps needed in terms of process and substance.
From a process perspective, countries have to commit themselves to an open and transparent discussion of the issues. It would be helpful to identify an appropriate intergovernmental forum for organizing and convening the debate. Alternatively, there may be merit in avoiding a bureaucratization of the debate and instead pushing to keep it at the ministerial level. As well, every country should make a commitment to put all issues on the table if we are to move from political to practical solutions.
With regard to substance, there is some urgency to carrying out a gap analysis, determining weaknesses and needs, and proposing solutions. It might be helpful to examine the experience of other centralized governance bodies, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) or the International Labour Organization (ILO). With regard to international legal frameworks, further analysis is needed to determine future needs and the costs and benefits of a more coordinated approach. The issue of compliance requires further elaboration, as do financial issues, including the financial implications of various institutional options.
If international environmental governance is to be central to preparations for Rio +10, much dialogue, analysis and consensus building is required. The Bergen Ministerial marks an important first step.
 We the Peoples The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century, Kofi A. Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, April 2000.
The Nairobi Declaration states that “UNEP is to be the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda, that promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the UN system and that serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment.”
Examples include the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Wildfowl Habitat, Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer.
Also known as the Ramsar Convention
 Examples include Report of the UN Secretary-General on Environment and Human Settlements (UNGA/53/463) to 53rd Session of the General Assembly on matters related to UN reform as well as Report of the UN Task Force on Environment and Human Settlements, 1998.