Wanted - An Effective Multilateral System
NUSA DUA, Indonesia - The echoes of failure still sounding from the Copenhagen summit on climate change in December are spurring efforts to reform the international legal framework. Civil society groups are demanding a new, more agile system that is both influential and effective.
A consultative group of ministers, created a year ago to explore changes to the multilateral system, met in late February in the Indonesian tourist destination Nusa Dua, on Bali, and proposed a series of initiatives with hopes that countries can reach an agreement in the medium term.
Some governments and organizations are leaning towards establishing an umbrella group of United Nations agencies, while others are proposing the creation of new institutions altogether.
"We need stronger environmental governance, with more power and a bigger budget," Alida Spadafora, director of the Panamanian National Association for the Conservation of Nature, told Tierramérica at the conclusion of the Civil Society Forum here.
"We don't know if it should be a U.N. body or program, but it should have greater influence and financing, because it is increasingly evident that we are not getting results," she said.
The Forum met ahead of the simultaneous conferences of parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions on chemicals and toxic substances, and the 11th Special Session of the U.N. Environment Program's (UNEP) Governing Council and the Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC/GMEF), Feb. 22-26 in Bali.
Spadafora said, "there is solid evidence that we are not achieving results in reversing the serious environmental problems we have, like climate change, biodiversity loss, and so many other issues where we are losing."
Maria Ivanova, director of the Global Environmental Governance project, described this concept as the inclusion of civil society organizations in the design and execution of policies.
Ivanova, who also took part in the Forum, said that few issues are as intrinsically global as the environment, but that the institutions created "have proven incapable of resolving the problems." Which is why there is a need for change, she said.
According to the U.S. expert, there are two main theories when it comes to environmental governance. There are those who say the system is successful and open to non-governmental organizations, and others who believe it is dysfunctional and fragmented, plagued by internal competition for limited resources.
The need for reform "is an issue on which governments as dissimilar as the United States and Iran can agree," said Ivanova, noting that they have both expressed concern about continued environmental destruction and agreed that multilateral institutions should be improved.
Ministers, civil society representatives and UNEP itself agree that the international community needs effective institutions with funding, and especially, coordination among them.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a letter to the conference that environmental questions cannot be resolved by weak institutions. He called upon the participants to be "creative and productive" in considering alternatives.
There is also recognition that the changes will not be decided before the next climate change summit, slated for November in Mexico, but the process will have begun with sights on the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, to take place in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 - known as Rio+20.
UNEP chief Achim Steiner told Tierramérica that if governments want a successful agreement in Rio, they must start sending clear signals now about the desired reforms and strategies.
As an example of synergies for greater efficiency, Steiner pointed to the first simultaneous meeting of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions.
The executives and experts of the three Conventions' secretariats began coordinating their work so that the regulatory instruments that they offer the party states would be more effective in preventing toxins from harming human health or wildlife.
Civil society is demanding a new global structure, especially because greater empowerment will subsequently be reflected in government policies. Many countries do not even have government agencies to handle environmental matters, and resources tend to be scant.
The Civil Society Forum issued a document in which it states that it is "essential to accelerate the implementation of reforms" of the international environmental system.
The Forum says reforms should improve the environmental scope of other institutions in the multilateral system, such as the World Trade Organization, the Commission on Sustainable Development, the World Bank and IMF.
(This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialized news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Program, United Nations Environment Program and the World Bank.)