The Way Forward
Special Feature

Dominique Voynet argues for reinforcing international governance of the environment and for the eventual creation of a World Environment Organization

Nearly ten years on from the Rio Conference, the time is ripe to address the issue of international governance of the environment. Much has been achieved in recent years, thanks to the extraordinary drive and efforts of Klaus Toepfer at the helm of UNEP. As a result of his actions and dynamism, the role and the authority of UNEP have been considerably strengthened. However, as was stressed in the closing declaration of the ministers of the environment who met in Malmö in May 2000 for the first Global Ministerial Environment Forum, there are still numerous challenges to be met to remedy the remaining weaknesses of this governance of the environment and to make it possible to tackle the threats to the global environment with the necessary resources.

The French presidency of the European Union (EU) made this issue one of its main priorities for the second half of 2000. France urged her European partners to reflect on the matter so that they could reach agreement on concrete proposals that the EU would then put forward to the rest of the world. The Council of Ministers of the Environment, which met on 18 and 19 December, agreed to adopt an EU position on the governance of the environment, which is detailed in a French presidency report.

This task is not completed at European level. It will be developed further at the Göteborg Summit, to be held in June 2001, as part of the preparation for Rio +10. But there are already a number of concrete elements that can be presented by the EU to all its partners at UNEP’s Governing Council in February.

The general aim is to strengthen the international institutional environment organizations by building on existing structures, particularly those of UNEP, eventually leading to the establishment of a World Environment Organization, through the convergence of several strategies:

  • Improving coordination between international environmental institutions. Expanding UNEP’s role and resources, including its political authority, would play a key part in reinforcing synergies. The decision to establish an environmental management group (EMG) is a first step in this direction, and this now needs to be translated into concrete action. It may also be useful to consider the setting up of a coordination mechanism under UNEP to harmonize the operations of institutions dedicated mainly to the environment. And lastly, the strengthening of links between environmental and non-environmental institutions also seems desirable.

  • Giving the international environmental structure a financial base commensurate with the challenges it must face. It would help if funding were more stable and predictable, especially that upon which UNEP relies for its operation. The EU, already the main contributor to UNEP, could increase its contribution in future if the other countries concerned were prepared to follow suit. The role and mandate of the Global Environment Facility could also be expanded. This is a question of ensuring that all the environmental conventions are accompanied by appropriate financial mechanisms that will guarantee their efficacy.

  • Promoting the effective participation of all those involved in this global environmental governance by facilitating the involvement of all the regions of the planet, and the participation of non-state actors and non-governmental organizations. This also means increasing access to information and public participation.

  • Ensuring greater coherence between environmental standards and stricter implementation of them. This requires greater coherence in the drafting of the growing body of these standards. As regards the implementation of environmental agreements, we also need to think about ways of strengthening their effectiveness by identifying the most appropriate judicial or quasi-judicial monitoring mechanisms.

  • Ensuring that environmental concerns are incorporated into the strategies of the various international institutions and into national domestic policies. These integration strategies must be pursued with the help, once again, of UNEP and of the future EMG, and by promoting cooperation between the major international institutions. Dialogue between UNEP and the World Trade Organization on this issue should be encouraged.

  • Lastly, more emphasis should be placed on sustainable development. In this respect, the position of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development could be strengthened by promoting its role in integrating environmental, social and economic concerns as well as the institutional dimension of sustainable development. Its role as a discussion forum open to civil society should also be reinforced. It is also important to reflect on the role of private investment and export credits in the sustainable development strategy and on ways of guaranteeing that projects thus funded will incorporate environmental concerns.

Much remains to be done to make signed agreements more binding. This is the only way to ensure that the principles of Rio (polluter pays, prevention strategies, shared but differentiated responsibilities) will be made concrete. It isalso the only way to resolve the growing imbalance between trade and environmental agreements. There is a huge amount at stake. Our aims, our ambitions and our commitment must be unwavering. Working towards the gradual creation of a World Environment Organization is the best way to meet these challenges

Dominique Voynet is Minister of Town and Country Planning and the Environment of France and was, during France’s recent Presidency of the European Union, President of the Council of European Ministers of the Environment.


This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Learning from disaster | Being prepared | The way forward | Breaking the cycle | Flip-flop to catastrophe | Nature's warnings | At a glance | Competition | Insuring against catastrophe | Recreating sustainability | The legacy of conflict | Ask us, involve us | The poor suffer most | Through a slanted lens

Complementary articles in other issues:
John Prescott: Gain, not pain (The Environment Millennium) 2000
Cletus A. Avoka: From summit to summit (The Environment Millennium) 2000
Madeleine K. Albright: Changing course (The Environment Millennium) 2000
Kjell Larsson: Now for vigorous action (The Environment Millennium) 2000
Jürgen Trittin: Spirit of optimism (Looking Forward) 1999
Guro Fjellanger: Meeting new challenges (Looking Forward) 1999