From left to right, the five consecutive Executive Directors of the United Nations Environment Programme: Achim Steiner, Klaus Toepfer, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Mostafa Tolba, and Maurice Strong, at the 2009 Global Environmental Governance Forum in Glion, Switzerland.
In the eyes of much of the world, global environmental governance remains a somewhat abstract concept, lacking a strong international institutional framework to push it forward. Slowly but surely, however, momentum has started to build behind the idea in recent years. One of the main reasons has been the growing involvement of civil society groups
, which have demanded a more substantial role in the design and execution of environmental policy—and there are signs that environmental leaders at the international level are listening.
On the heels of the UN Environment Programme’s Governing Council meeting earlier this year in Bali, a call was put out to strengthen the involvement of civil society organizations in the current environmental governance reform process. To that end, UNEP is creating a Civil Society Advisory Group on International Environmental Governance, which will act as an information-sharing intermediary between civil society groups and regional and global environmental policymaking bodies over the next few years. (The application deadline has been extended; applicants interested in joining the Advisory Group should submit their materials via e-mail by Sunday, August 15, 2010—full instructions are listed at the end of this post.)
Maria Ivanova, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and director of the Global Environmental Governance Project, played a key role in ensuring civil society engagement in the contemporary political process on international environmental governance reform. Ivanova recently sat down with the New Security Beat to talk about the future prospects for global environmental governance, the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil in 2012, and how to foster a more open and sustained dialogue between the worlds of environmental policymaking and academia.
New Security Beat: What are the pitfalls of a regional approach to addressing climate change and other environmental issues, as opposed to an international approach?
Maria Ivanova: Global environmental problems cannot be solved by one country or one region alone, and require a collective global response. But they can also not be addressed solely at the global level because they require action by individuals and organizations in particular geographies. The conundrum with climate change is that the countries and regions most affected are the ones least responsible for causing the problem in the first case. We cannot therefore simply substitute a national or regional response for a global action plan, as more often than not, it would be a case of “victim pays” rather than “polluter pays”—the fundamental principle of environmental policy in the United States and most other countries. Importantly, however, our global environmental institutions do not possess the requisite authority and ability to enforce agreements and sanction non-compliance.
NSB: What are some of the inherent difficulties in getting countries to see eye-to-eye and collaborate on the development of institutions for global environmental governance?
MI: The most important difficulty is perhaps the lack of trust and a common ethical paradigm accompanied by a pervasive suspicion about countries’ motives. Secondly, there is a perceived dichotomy between environment and development that has lodged in the consciousness of societies around the world. Thirdly, there’s the inability of current institutions to deliver on existing commitments. The resulting blame game feeds suspicions and restarts the whole cycle again.
NSB: Do you see the 21st century’s various environmental challenges as being a driver of international conflict or cooperation?
MI: After the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was expected that global environmental (and other) issues would be a driver for cooperation. A green dividend was expected, and the 1992 Rio Earth Summit fostered much hope. But quite the opposite happened. Global environmental challenges such as climate change, for example, have caused more conflict than cooperation. Other concerns, such as whaling and biodiversity loss, have also triggered conflicts as governments have become fiercely protective of their national sovereignty. On the other hand, civil society groups and even individuals around the world have come together in new coalitions and formed new alliances. So while at a governmental level we observe increased tension, at a civil society level, we witness unprecedented mobilization and collaboration, especially through social media. Obviously, we live in a new world.
NSB: There has been a lot of talk about bridging the gap between the academic and policy worlds—two communities that do not typically have much interaction, but likely have a lot to learn from one another. What steps do you think can be taken regarding environmental governance that might facilitate a sustained dialogue and interaction between the two sides?
MI: Many academics have thought, debated, and written about global environmental governance. Fewer have presented their analysis to policymakers and politicians. At the Global Environmental Governance (GEG) Project that I direct, we seek to bridge that gap and provide a clearinghouse of information, serving as a “brutal analyst,” and acting as an honest broker among various groups working in this field. Moreover, we are in the process of launching a collaborative initiative among the Global Environmental Governance Project, the Center for Law and Global Affairs at Arizona State University, and the Academic Council on the UN System to collect, compile, and communicate academic thinking on options for reform to the ongoing political process on international environmental governance. We are creating a Linked-In group where we hope to engage in discussions with colleagues from universities around the world with the purpose of generating ideas, developing options, and testing them with policymakers. Moreover, we are engaging with civil society beyond academia. The GEG Project is sponsoring five regional events on governance in Argentina, China, Ethiopia, Nepal, and Uganda that are taking place in August and September. Led by young environmental leaders in those countries who attended the 2009 Global Environmental Governance Forum in Glion, Switzerland, these consultations are generating genuine engagement in thought and action on governance. So, new initiatives are certainly emerging and the results could be visible by the Rio+20 conference in May 2012.
NSB: What are your expectations for Rio+20?
MI: Given that governance is a major issue on the agenda for Rio+20, my hope is that the conference will bring about a new model for global governance, which reframes the environment-development dichotomy, cultivates shared values, and fosters leadership. Indeed, I am convinced that leadership is the most important necessary condition for change. We need to encourage more bold, visionary, entrepreneurial behavior rather than conformity.
My hidden hope for Rio+20 is that it will dramatically shift the narrative and move us from sustainable development to sustainability. Sustainability builds on sustainable development but goes further than that. As a concept it allows for new thinking, new actors, and new politics. It avoids the North-South polarization of sustainable development, which is so often equated with development and is therefore understood as what the North has already attained and what the South is aspiring to. By contrast, no one society has reached sustainability, and learning by all is necessary. Moreover, much of the innovative thinking about sustainability is happening in developing countries, which are trying to improve quality of life without jeopardizing the carrying capacity of the environment. Progressive thinking is also taking place on campuses in industrialized countries, which are creating a new sense of community and collaboration. Indeed, young people around the world are engaging in finding new ways of living within the planetary limits in a responsible and fulfilling manner.
Maria Ivanova is director of the Global Environmental Governance Project, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and an assistant professor of global governance at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston.
If you wish to nominate yourself or someone else as a candidate for the Civil Society Advisory Group on IEG, you need to submit materials to firstname.lastname@example.org by Sunday, August 15, 2010 (please copy email@example.com). You can find the nomination form and the Terms of Reference for the group at the Global Environmental Governance Project’s website.
Photo Credit: “UNEP Leadership,” courtesy of the Global Environmental Governance Project.