Environmental Issues Pros and Cons

Following is one of the chapters from the Center for UN Reform Education’s upcoming reader on Global Environmental Governance.

by Maria Ivanova and Jennifer Roy
January 2007

The Puzzle of Multiplicity

Environmental issues have come to exemplify most starkly the complexity and interconnectedness of the contemporary world. They have evolved over time from minor nuisances (emissions from the local factory) to serious health hazards (the smog across the industrialized world) to global concerns (transboundary air and water pollution, deforestation, fisheries depletion, biodiversity loss, and climate change). Contemporary environmental problems, therefore, require not only specialized knowledge about specific issues but also coordination and cooperation among close to two hundred countries.

In contrast to other global governance regimes such as health, trade and economic policy, the institutional architecture for the environment lacks clarity and coherence. No one organization has been able to emerge as a leader to actively champion environmental issues ensuring their integration within economic and social policies. International environmental responsibilities and activities are spread across multiple organizations, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), numerous other UN agencies, the international financing institutions, and the World Trade Organization. Adding to this tapestry are the independent secretariats and governing bodies of the numerous international environmental treaties.

At first glance, the world can be quite proud of the number of multilateral environmental agreements and institutions. In fact, the organizational proliferation in the environmental field seems encouraging and in line with the argument for mainstreaming environment into the mandates of all relevant organizations. The multiplicity of international agencies and conventions might also seem necessary as environmental issues are complex and require specific responses that could probably not be delivered by any single body. The practical result, however, has been a series of jurisdictional overlaps, gaps, and “treaty congestion” (Brown Weiss 1995) and an inability to respond to overarching environmental problems. This has led to operational and implementational inefficiencies, inconsistencies, and overload of national administrations in both developed and developing countries. In this context, the capacity of national governments and of international organizations to attain the environmental results desired has been severely weakened.

Environmental Issues in Antarctica

Environmental Issues in Maldives

Environmental Issues in San Diego

Environmental Issues in World

Environmental Issues Worldwide