Global Environmental Citizenship

Global Environmental Citizenship


Globalization has radically changed the sociology of the world's actors. It has empowered the private sector, particularly multinational corporations, and diminished the role of the public sector. And a diverse third sector has emerged, mainly composed of a more active civil society organized in voluntary and non-profit institutions.

Society is increasingly aware that problems - including environmental ones - will not be solved by government alone. Gradually more and more people are realizing the need to organize themselves and act collectively to influence social change - and are searching for new ways of doing so. The term 'non-governmental organizations' (NGOs) can no longer adequately describe the multiplicity and diversity of actors outside government.

The information revolution has also influenced new forms of democracy and social participation. Powerful electronic networks, like the Internet, beyond institutional control, have created many opportunities for horizontal - as opposed to traditionally vertical - communication, bringing people closer to such issues as the environment. Meanwhile many global organizations have established networks effectively enabling the exchange of ideas and implementation techniques. These new relationships and interactions are creating the basis for a global environmental citizenship, with rights and responsibilities to the planet as its capacity to support human life is pushed to the limits. Society must collectively manage its own future. Global environmental citizenship is about asserting the ethical responsibilities of individuals, organizations, countries and corporations to create new forms of solidarity to protect all life on Earth.

The Earth Summit, the emergence of the new paradigm of sustainable development, the multiplicity of new actors, and significant changes in the geopolitical structure, have all helped to transform the scope of the international environment agenda. The Summit encouraged many international institutions to include environmental concerns in their mandates and gave rise to a growing number of international conventions with autonomous governing bodies and secretariats. These new realities require new responses.

Governments form UNEP's basic constituency. But it must now reach beyond them, actively engaging other sectors of society, if it is to fulfil its mission effectively. Its unique mission - and distinct international niche as facilitator, catalyst and convener - enables it to bring all sectors of society to the environmental debate.

Raising public awareness has been one of UNEP's major successes. After more than 20 years of experience in public education, outreach and information activities, it has an impressive array of publications, global accords, guidelines, programmes, fora, data bases, and other products. It has also established strategic alliances, particularly with industry, local authorities, parliamentarians and environmental non-governmental organizations.

But it is now imperative to reach beyond the traditional environment constituencies and find ways of engaging other sectors of society - such as religious groups, professional associations, media, networks of educators, farmers and workers - and ways of helping them to unleash their creativity and exercise their environmental responsibilities. Environmental issues can empower citizens to influence governments and the private sector towards attaining more environmentally sound and equitable patterns of production and consumption.

UNEP is refocusing traditional forms of environmental education and outreach around the concept of Global Environmental Citizenship, coherently anchoring its messages to target groups in line with its work programme. It seeks to help major groups and internationally influential non-governmental organizations participate in the environmental agenda and has a demand-side approach, focusing on the needs and concerns of different audiences. It also aims to assert the differentiated rights and responsibilities of various sectors of society, to promote changes in attitude and behaviour and to foster informed actions to protect life on Earth.

Through its Global Environmental Citizenship Programme, UNEP has developed strategic alliances with parliamentarians, consumers, local authorities, educators, religious groups, media and other key groups that play important roles in society. It has consulted them before undertaking activities to increase public awareness, so as to understand their interests, concerns and needs and provide them with specific support. Collaboration with these networks has already produced important results, including a joint campaign with Consumers International on Safe Food for All which gives consumers information in a simple format, on such topics as chemicals, biosafety, and trade and the environment: UNEP prepared the material and it was disseminated by Consumers International. In another instance, UNEP and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives jointly published a Practical Guide for Local Agenda 21, which has been disseminated to more than 400 local authorities worldwide.

Alicia Bárcena is Senior Advisor on Global Environmental Citizenship, UNEP

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