Why is there still no World Environment Organisation?

Written by Lucien Georgeson, doctoral researcher in Green Economy and Sustainable Development at University College London in The Conversation  – an independent source of news and views sourced from the academic and research community.

“It seems an anomaly that among the 15 autonomous, specialised agencies within the United Nations – such as theFAOWMOWHO, or UNESCO – there is no dedicated environmental organisation.

This secondary status and the subsequent lack of coherence in environmental matters harms global environmental governance. Wouldn’t having a World Environment Organisation (WEO) help to coordinate global environmental and climate change efforts?

Many calls, few answers

There have been 40 years of debate over a World Environment Organisation, starting with calls from US foreign policy strategists for an International Environment Agency. Instead, following the1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was created the following year. Despite this positive step, this was a weaker reform than many proposed, and effectively curtailed further debate over the need for a specialised agency.

Such a global body was again suggested in 1989, principally by the Netherlands, France and Norway, in order to manage the reduction of ozone-destroying CFCs under the Montreal Protocol which came in to force that year. After the Rio+5 meeting in 1997, Germany, Brazil, Singapore and South Africa again called for a global umbrella body for the environment at the UN General Assembly.

The need for the UN to attend more efficiently to environmental matters was once again recognised at the 2005 World Summit. A draft proposal for environmental governance reform was discussed in 2008, but by February 2009 efforts had stalled.

Yet again, in the run up to Rio+20 in 2012 there were calls to use this significant milestone to reform international environmental governance. The challenges identified included the need to integrate science and policy, provide a voice for environmental sustainability, secure funding, and to build a coherent and cohesive approach to working within the UN system and meeting the needs of individual countries.

In the wake of the conference, it was recognised that global sustainable development issues need a permanent international champion. But delegates failed to uphold the proposal to “upgrade” UNEP to a specialised agency. So despite more than 20 years international conferences since the first Rio environmental summit in 1992, there is today a specialised agency for industrial development, but not for sustainable development.”

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