News Release

Experts weigh need to overhaul environmental governance system as world ecosystems worsen

Peer-Reviewed Publication

United Nations University

Environmental conditions worldwide are worsening despite a proliferation of treaties and organizations, calling into question the need to overhaul the way the world manages its environmental affairs, according to research published June 3 by United Nations University Press.

No one body currently administers the different treaties and multi-lateral environmental agreements so mandates overlap, enforcement inconsistent and disjointed. The numerous actors on the international environmental field need coordination by a new Global Environmental Organization (GEO), say authors of "Emerging Forces in Environmental Governance".

Edited by Professors Norichika Kanie and Peter M. Haas, the book says the new global environmental institution would help consolidate and coordinate environmental policy research, technology databases, and information clearing-houses, conduct training, and centralize the secretariats that administer global environmental agreements.

A GEO could serve as well as a legal advocate for environmental protection and regulations to counterbalance the WTO by collecting a roster of international environmental lawyers to participate in WTO panels, the book says, adding it could also organize high-profile annual ministerial meetings to address environmental issues, ensure widespread involvement in environmental policy, and galvanize rapid responses to new alerts. Also called for is the creation of an international High Commissioner for the Environment.

The book says the UN Environment Programme is overstretched, with a large mandate but relatively little funding and personnel, and recommends it focus on science and co-ordination of scientific activities throughout the UN system, overseeing the monitoring of environmental conditions, and providing authoritative information to the international community.

Other recommendations in the book include an NGO watchdog to monitor state and industry compliance with multilateral environmental treaties, akin to Amnesty International.

Enforcement: World Environmental Court, Security Council, among global options

Authors of the second UNU book explore like themes, including the need for improving compliance with and enforcement of international environmental laws.

"Reforming International Environmental Governance: From Institutional Limits to Innovative Solutions," edited by W. Bradnee Chambers and Jessica F. Green, says options include a World Environment Court, a UN Environmental Security Council with binding enforcement powers, and expansion of the UN Security Council mandate to include environmental security. The Security Council can already act in cases of armed conflict which arise because of environmental or resource depletion, but it is unclear whether it does or should have the mandate to act, for example, when there are environmental threats to peace and stability.

According to Mr. Chambers, the book aims at fundamental questions about how institutions can most effectively address global environmental problems.

"Even though governments have complained a lot about the problem, they have offered no solutions except the status quo," he says. "The basic question to ask ourselves is why, after witnessing a proliferation of international organizations, hundreds of treaties, new agencies and new environmental programmes in every relevant UN organization, nevertheless we see the environment getting worse, not better. Is something wrong with the current institutional setup? If so what is it? How can we improve these organizations?"

With reform of international environmental governance an important topic in both the political and the academic arenas, these two volumes offer important information about the current complex dynamics of multilateral agreements, the costs and benefits of different models and approaches to reforming international environmental governance.


Established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1973, UNU is an international community of scholars engaged in research, advanced training and the dissemination of knowledge related to pressing global problems. Activities focus mainly on peace and conflict resolution, sustainable development and the use of science and technology to advance human welfare. The University operates a worldwide network of research and post-graduate training centres, with headquarters in Tokyo.

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