The Rio+20 Summit reneged on an opportunity to bring environmental protection to centre stage of global policy. One of the items on the Rio +20 summit was a proposal to turn the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) into a fully fledged agency of the UN. However, when the issue came up for discussion, the world once again shied away from taking a firm stand but instead chose the compromise route of dealing with funding issues currently bedevilling the premier global environmental body.
Observers say the current fragmented nature of environmental governance is one of the reasons why environmental policy has failed to claim its rightful place at the dinner table of global policy. While its sister bodies such as the World Health Organisation, the World Trade Organisation, are sitting comfortably at the dinner table guiding global policy as it relates to health and trade respectively, UNEP is suffering an identity with its offshoots such CBD, IPCC, UNFCC, among others claiming a share in the global environmental policy.
A cocktail of actors in global environmental policy arena, have left the field with too many actors but with no meaningful results. None of them has the necessary clout to influence global environmental policy in the way WHO and WTO have done in their respective fields.
For instance WHO policy guidelines to a large extent inform ministry of health policies across the globe. WTOs General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) forms the bedrock of most international trade agreements. However, international environmental policy is still treated as a gentleman’s club where the influence of UNEP and its off shots are limited to an advisory role.
UNEP was formed 40 years ago to champion the global environmental policy. But as years went by with increasing complexity of environmental problems, many more small environmental bodies were formed. Today we have a whole host of international bodies each claiming space in the crowded arena of global environmental policy. Currently there are close to 500 multi-lateral agreements on environment which would require a strong steward. Unfortunately this does not appear to be a priority for world leaders.
While some critics point to the in efficiency of UNEP to tackle some of the World’s challenging environmental problems as some of the reasons they are reluctant to grant the organisation a full status as an agency of the UN, denying it power simply worsens the situation. At the current trend of events various environmental agreements will continue to be violated with reckless abandon. It also demonstrates the lop-sided nature of international agreements. International environmental are developed nations especially the United States and emerging economies such as Brazil, China, and India, have been reluctant to show commitment. This partly due to lack of clear leadership on global environmental policy.
As full-fledged UN agency, UNEP would assume the commanding role in driving global environment policy that clearly lacks a leader. Integrating activities of other environmental bodies into UNEPprogrammes, the body would be able to harness the fragmented activities into coherent programmes. As the summit was called with so much fanfare to chart the next decade of environment, it left us with no real leader for global environmental policy.