Albion Monitor /News

New Global Enviro Agency Proposed

by Thalif Deen

Twin goals of sustainable development and environmental protection
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS A coalition of four countries, representing Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America, is proposing that a new environmental organization be set up under the auspices of the United Nations.

South Africa, Germany, Brazil, and Singapore say the new U.N. body, which would be set up along the lines of the World Trade Organization (WTO), may be the answer to the world's growing environmental ills.

Announcing their joint initiative, the leaders of the four countries said last week that the United Nations, "as the one truly universal international organization," has a significant role to play in meeting the twin challenges of sustainable development and environmental protection.

In the short term, the four leaders want reform and a strengthening of the Nairobi-based U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) to make it "the world's environmental conscience." In the medium term, they want the establishment of an environmental umbrella organization with UNEP as a major pillar.

"Behind it is an overwhelming feeling that the environmental voice of the United Nations needs greater clout"
Environmental issues are currently handled by several bodies, including UNEP, the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), the World Bank, and the Global Environment Facility (GEF). GEF, in turn, is administered by the World Bank, the UNDP, and UNEP.

The proposal for a new environment body comes against the backdrop of a five-day, U.N. Special Session on Environment and Development which ended June 27. Attended by more than 40 world leaders, the Special Session is reviewing the successes and failures following the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

UNEP Executive Director Elizabeth Dowdeswell cites the need for a global organization "if we are to really do our jobs as governments want us to do." She pointed out that the world needs to be assured that environmental agreements, such as the ones on climate change, biodiversity, and desertification, are honored and enforced.

"And we don't have that capability right now," she said. For one thing, UNEP is small and does not have adequate and predictable funding. "We need to put it on the same status as existing international financial institutions."

In fact, the issue of a strengthened UNEP was raised at a recent meeting of the agency's Governing Council.

"As designed 25 years ago, UNEP served the purpose for which it was created. But the needs of today require that we take on some of the characteristics of a global organization, along the lines of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, or the WTO," Dowdeswell said.

"While there is a difference in what people call a world environment organization or a global environment organization, what's behind it is an overwhelming feeling that the environmental voice of the United Nations needs greater clout," Dowdeswell said.

Asked how the developing countries as a bloc viewed the proposal, the chairman of the Group of 77 developing countries treaded carefully.

"If there is such a proposal, we certainly have not seen the blueprint," Ambassador Daudi Mwakawago of Tanzania said on behalf of the 132 member countries of the Group of 77. "We will judge it on the basis of whether it addresses our environmental concerns."

"If it is meant to protect the consumption patterns and the production patterns of the North, I am sure it will be a difficult sell to the Group," he added. "It will also depend on whether the proposed organization will benefit the developing countries. Let's wait and see."

"I would prefer an enhanced role for UNEP or see UNEP becoming a U.N. specialized agency," said he chairman of the meetings, Ambassador Razali Ismail of Malaysia.

Unlike the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) -- two specialized agencies of the United Nations -- UNEP is only a "program."

The final declaration of this week's Special Session will, among other things, focus on UNEP's effectiveness.

"UNEP is a very important function of the United Nations, and it should be kept within the United Nations," said Razali.

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Albion Monitor June 29, 1997 (

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