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International organizations play a large role in dealing with environmental problems

Page history last edited by Brian D Butler 11 years, 1 month ago








International organizations play a large role in dealing with environmental problems


Taken on a global scale, the atmosphere and the oceans are elements that all nations must share and take equal responsibility to protect, even though none of them has direct ownership over them. Environmental issues that concern “common goods” such as these (and others) are broad enough in scope that they can only be addressed at the international level. As a result, international organizations such as the United Nations, WTO, and International Monetary Fund - IMF have all tried to play a role in setting international environmental policies (with some limited success). In addition to these national international organizations, there have also been a plethora of non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) such as Greenpeace and WWF, who have been active on an international level trying to influence both companies and countries to enact better environmental regulations.


For international organizations, the WTO has the Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs). At the UN, there is the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). NAFTA has a regional Commission for Environmental Cooperation. There is the European Environment Agency (EEA), and many more regional organizations focused on the environment. Each of these agencies has a very noble purpose in attempting to protect the environment, but none of them have been truly effective in enforcing global mandates for environmental protection, the reasons for which I will discuss below. Some important international environmental laws have been signed at meetings of IO’s and NGO’s in recent years; the 1972 United Nations Convention on the Human Environment (UNCHE), held in Stockholm, Sweden; the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and the Kyoto and Montreal Treaties on climate change.


NGOs have been active in environmental advocacy, lobbying, and in filling the leadership void where they seek to compensate for global weakness in enacting and enforcing strong environmental rules and regulations. Environmental activism is the route that groups such as Greenpeace have taken. Greenpeace has been instrumental in raising awareness of many issues such as illegal logging in the Amazon basin in Brazil, and in shining a media spot light on some of the more contemptible behavior of environmental criminals around the world. Other groups such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) have been very effective in bringing commercial awareness to the issues of sustainable forest management practices. In the furniture industry, for example, it is now very common practice for buyers to question international suppliers of wood if they have an FSC “green seal” on their products. Where weak governments may be unable or unwilling to act, groups such as Greenpeace, WWF, and the FSC have stepped in to help bring awareness of some environmental issues. They have been surprisingly powerful in influencing companies to change their policies (even if they have not been quite so successful on the national level of influencing nation-states).


The reason for international organizations (IO’s and NGO’s) to get involved in these issues is that some environmental problems have such a broad scope that they are impossible for just one nation to solve alone. Global environmental problems (such as ocean or air pollution) can not be addressed by one nation alone, no matter how passionately they may feel about the issue. Finland, for example, can not solve global warming by themselves, no matter how dramatically they cut their own greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, they will need to engage in debate with other nations and try to influence them to cut their emissions. They will have to work through official IO’s, and also try to influence other nation’s policies by supporting NGO’s around the world.


The "international political economy -IPE" of these issues gets complicated when one nation, for whatever reason, does not want to, or is not willing to solve the problem. In situations like these, there is an opportunity for international environmental organizations to step up and try to fill the leadership void, and to influence change. In the case of the ozone, there was an international agreement in 1987 that was made at a United Nations conference in Montreal. This UN sponsored agreement required all nations to cut in half, and then completely halt all production of CFC’s. In this case, the desires of the UN were congruent with the most powerful nation-states’ desires (such as the US) who saw it as relatively painless economically speaking to enact environmental protection laws prohibiting the manufacture of sale of CFCs. Some individual companies may have opposed the deal, but there were no vested interests of the powerful nation states that would impede a deal, and a deal was made. It was therefore relatively easy to get international agreement on finding a solution to this environmental emergency. All nations agreed, and the IO’s were seen as relatively effective at negotiating an international environmental agreement.


In other cases, such as global warming, the IO’s have not been nearly as successful in their attempts to get powerful countries to change their policies. In the case of greenhouse gas emissions, there is a stronger incentive for the individual nation states to resist change because of the widespread dependence of their economies on the burning of fossil fuels. The USA, for example, has argued that putting restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions above a certain level would slow their economic growth. Because of strong resistance from the US, it has proven much more difficult for the international organizations to implement global policy change.


With no global superpower that can oblige individual nation states to accept their environmental policies, there is the fear that individual countries will act solely in their individual best interests and will ignore the common interests that all nations share. Because each sovereign nation is free to what they like inside of their own borders, there is a fear that they may ignore the globally shared environmental elements as they seek to develop their economies or to expand their political power. The issues are complicated by a sort of “prisoners dilemma”, whereby each individual nation has the economic incentives to cheat and to be the polluter, but they want all other nations to be clean-tech, non-polluters.


On the international level, there is no “global-cop” to enforce the environmental policies (or preferences) of one nation onto another. In the absence of a true hegemony, there is no superpower that can, or is willing to play the role of a global environmental enforcer. In the Western Hemisphere, the United States is the only country that could potentially play the role of such an environmental hegemon, but they have clearly decided that this is not a role that they wish to play (as the rejection of the Kyoto protocol on global warming clearly indicates). When the USA rejected the Kyoto agreement, many European countries felt angry, and betrayed. But because there is no “global-cop”, the European countries had no way to force the US to stop emitting greenhouse gasses. Instead, their best alternative was to engage in a global debate and to try and influence the US to acquiesce. Other nations have gone ahead with the agreement, and hope to influence the US in other ways. In addition to grass roots efforts (media, and otherwise), there are various international organizations (IO’s), and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) that have tried to muster the political will of the world, and to influence the US to get on board with cutting greenhouse gas emissions.


International environmental organizations such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) are often criticized for being ineffective at implementing and enforcing global environmental policies. Perhaps part of the reason for their particular failure rises from the fact that they are based in Africa, and are therefore somewhat removed from the normal circles of IPE power and influence. But the more likely explanation for their recent struggles arises from the fact that they have no structural power over the sovereign nations of the world to really enforce any of their decisions. Countries over time have defied, and discovered that nothing happens. There is no punishment.


In order to solve this problem there has to be some way to put international law above national law, and there has to be a way to enforce global environmental regulations. Without such power, there may be no way, exept for grass roots efforts, to affect global change.





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