Malaysia's Prime Minister has fuelled international momentum towards a World Environment Organization, endorsing proposals to create such a body when global leaders meet for a global summit in Rio de Janiero next June.
The proposed WEO would be a specialized global body akin to the World Trade Organization and World Health Organization.
Speaking at a two-day UN conference on law, justice, governance and sustainable development concluding today, the Prime Minister, the Hon. Dato' Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak, said it is time for the world to rationalize a bewildering jumble of overlapping processes.
"It has become virtually impossible" for developing countries to participate meaningfully in today's excessively complicated environmental governance system, the Prime Minister says -- one only wealthy countries can cope with while "developing nations are becoming disenfranchised."
According to the UN Environment Programme, there are now 18 major (and many more smaller) multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), each dedicated to a specific issue ranging from forests and climate change to collapsing fish stocks and biodiversity, and each managed by a separate secretariat and administration.
Between 1992 to 2007, the 18 major MEAs alone convened some 540 meetings, at which more than 5,000 decisions were taken, all requiring some level of follow-up effort by signatory countries.
"From the perspective of the Government of Malaysia and many other governments, only with a major overhaul of the governance system will we be able to address the challenges of environmental sustainability."
Prime Minister Razak adds that, unlike the World Trade Organization (WTO), which is regulatory and sets standards, the proposed environmental body "should be consultative and facilitative to assist countries to meet the global commitments derived from mutual agreements."
The proposed World Environment Organization has been publicly embraced by a growing number of heads of government, including now Malaysia, France, Germany, Brazil and Kenya, as well as several other African and South Pacific countries.
The meeting in Kuala Lumpur is the first in a series to be held in different world regions in the lead-up to a UNEP-hosted World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability 1-3 June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil -- immediately before the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD 2012 -- the "Rio+20 Conference"). A similar event was held just prior to a 2002 meeting in Johannesburg on the 10th anniversary of Rio's original landmark 1992 environmental summit.
Says Prof. Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to Prime Minister of Malaysia and co-chair the High Level International Advisory Committee for the World Congress in June: "Political clout, stable, adequate and assured funding, and effectiveness are fundamental for an international organisation mandated to help the world effect sustainable development. The relevant institutions today have neither the funding nor the authority required."
He notes that voluntary national contributions to UNEP's budget have fallen approximately one-third in the past decade. Restricted, earmarked contributions now make up two-thirds of UNEP's annual worldwide budget of roughly $60 million - the price of a high-end yacht. The Washington-based Global Environment Facility, which funds limited types of environment-related projects, has a budget 10 times as large.
Bakary Kante, Director of UNEP's Division of Environmental Law and Conventions, notes "arguments that international environmental governance is incoherent because there are so many layers of bureaucratic fragmentations between multilateral environmental agreements and has evolved as a system that is too loosely connected."
"The heart of the incoherence problem is the very fact that the primary international organization responsible for environment, the United Nations Environment Programme, is solely an 'environment' organization and does not place environment in the context of overall sustainability (economic and social). ...(U)ntil this fundamental flaw is fixed in the IEG (international environmental governance) systems, progress towards environmental sustainability cannot be achieved."