KUALA LUMPUR, July 29 (Bernama) — There is a need to establish a World Environment Organisation (WEO) under the United Nations as the current governance arrangements for the sector have failed to meet the expectations.
Developed over the course of 40 years, since the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1972, the challenges have outgrown the system, Science Adviser to the Prime Minister, Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Zakri Abdul Hamid said.
The current international environmental governance framework no longer serves the interests of governments. It has not reversed or even contained the environmental degradation over the last few decades.
“Right now environmental issues are governed internationally by a hodgepodge of institutions spread across the UN. In fact there are more than 40 different UN agencies with environmental programmes,” Dr Zakri noted.
Only a major overhaul of the governance system will heed the reforms needed to address the challenges of environmental sustainability.
Over the years, the international community has adopted hundreds of multilateral environmental agreements, all with their own secretariats and administrations.
Speaking at a two-day workshop recently, Dr Zakri said last year there were more meetings than the calendar days in the year.
He added that the last five years of meetings under a fraction of these agreements, have produced over 5,000 decisions that the countries are supposed to act upon through national efforts.
The workshop, convened by Asean, UNEP, Office of the Science Adviser to the Prime Minister of Malaysia and Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), is part of the preparations for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+20) next year.
“The system has become insanely complicated and virtually impossible for the developing countries to participate meaningfully,” he said.
The only countries that cope with the system are the richest countries of the world, while the poor developing nations are becoming disenfranchised, he added.
“This scenario calls for a change. Developing countries need to think clearly about their needs for the environment and get over this stigma that the ‘environmental agenda’ is only for the rich,” Dr Zakri explained.
History has shown that most of the global organisations that we have today were actually designed and negotiated by the developed world, while the developing countries have stood on the sidelines and watched it taking place.
But the environment issue goes to the heart of development, livelihoods and the well being of all of us.
Moreover there is a growing economy based on market niches in green technology, and green goods and services – market opportunity that Malaysia and many other Asian countries are quickly realising.
“We need a WEO that will help develop new ideas, share experiences and assist the countries in making a transition to a green economy. We have to help the poorest nations become partners in a green economy and not create a parallel development track, one for the haves and one for the have-nots,” Dr Zakri said.
He added that a WEO must be the anchor that can rationalise current environmental governance and ensure that developing countries are equally represented and able to participate in the system within their own financial means.
A DEMOCRATIC BODY
The current approach has to change, especially when it comes to redesigning a new environmental governance system.
It must have a development focus and be better aimed at responding to developing countries’ needs, Dr Zakri said.
This means, a WEO must have certain and distinctive priorities.
“It must be a democratic body with universal membership where each country has one vote, not weighed voting as in the case of many financial assistance agencies, where donor countries have more votes compared to recipient countries,” he explained.
Developing countries need implementation support, especially technical assistance, capacity building and technology support.
A WEO, therefore, must have an implementation arm to respond to developing countries’ needs.
Right now implementation support falls through the cracks in the UN system as no one agency is responsible for this within the environmental sector, meaning that in the end it is the developing countries that are losing out.
This is especially the case for multilateral environmental agreements where there are many promises of support, but only a few mechanisms and no clear institution to help countries implement their commitments.
NOTHING LIKE WTO
However, the proposed creation of the WEO to anchor the global efforts for the environment may be a sensitive issue for several countries, Dr Zakri said.
“Almost instinctively, the words ‘world’ and ‘organisation’, when heard together by developing country diplomats, makes them react against it, saying that it would be another World Trade Organisation (WTO) and that is the last thing we need,” he noted.
The reality is that there is a serious need for WEO and the proposals for it look nothing like a WTO.
Most of the UN specialised agencies are actually not at all like the WTO.
Organisations such as the WHO, FAO or Unesco provide consultative and facilitative functions and assist the countries to meet the global commitments derived from mutual agreements.
They are not at all regulatory like the WTO, which sets standards and reduces barriers to trade.
AseanN and developing countries need to engage in the debate and form a proposal that takes their needs as developing nations to Rio+20.
“Otherwise, we may end up with yet another global organisation that is established without our needs in mind, or worse, after marginalising the developing countries,” Dr Zakri concluded. — BERNAMA
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