Book Review: "World in Transition 2: New Structures for Global Environmental Policy"

In International Review for Environmental Strategies (IRES) Volume3 Number2 (Winter 2002)
Peer-reviewed Article

Book Review
World in Transition 2: New Structures for Global Environmental Policy by the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU).
Publisher information: London: Earthscan, 2001.
ISBN: 1-85383-852-7, 242 pp., £50.00 (hbk).

International institutions play a crucial role in the movement to cope with global environmental problems, and the structure of those institutions is the key to defining the success of this movement. New Structures for Global Environmental Policy is a proposal for a new "Earth Alliance," a vision for the restructuring of international environmental institutions and organizations from the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU). It was published shortly before the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), convened from 26 August to 4 September 2002 in Johannesburg, with an expectation that the WSSD would serve as an opportunity to get some elements of this structural reform underway.

Chapter A points out that in order to provide swift and concerted international remedies for the Earth's ecosystem, it is necessary to provide institutional support to international organizations by either reforming the key international organizations and institutions specifically for the purpose, or by creating novel global policy institutions for sustainable decision-making and implementation processes. The WBGU concentrates on the former approach, which allows palpable success to be achieved within a reasonable time-scale.

Chapter B depicts environmental problems on a global scale and shows that, despite the great number of some 900 bi- or multi-lateral environmental agreements, a considerable need for action remains. It first sets out the six most pressing global environmental problems, based on the syndrome methodology. a The chapter identifies key factors driving the dynamics of global change, and attempts to identify the interactions between global environmental problems and derive recommendations for institutional action for a number of examples. It summarizes the consequences of these cross-cutting analyses for the institutional design of global environmental policy and the overview of the institutions of environmental relevance within the United Nations (UN) system.

Chapter C provides the tools for analyzing the issues surrounding the reform and improvement of the system of international institutions, organizations, and "institutional arrangements" in global environmental policy in general. The role of institutions and organizations during agenda-setting is discussed first. This is followed by a discussion of international issues, in the phase in which they are negotiated and refined by international institutions, and an examination of the problems of implementation and compliance. In addition, illustrative analyses are made of two action areas: approaches in the area of formal education, and programmes and activities at municipal and regional levels. Finally, the WBGU presents recommendations for action and research.

Chapter D discusses the interplay between the environment and international institutions in the areas of trade, finance, and development. This chapter serves primarily to make initial distinctions in the often ideologically-loaded debate on the possibility of disciplining global market forces and, more particularly, to consider the political options or actions from the viewpoint of international environmental policy.

Chapter E addresses the crucial issue of effectiveness: How will environmental problems on a global scale in fact be solved? It discusses three areas: the role of scientific policy advice in the assessment of global environmental changes, the appropriate organizational architecture for global environmental policy, and the cross-cutting issue of funding. In response, the WBGU suggests a gradual reform of the relevant international network of institutions, which, in the long term, should lead to an "International Environmental Organization" under the auspices of the UN.

Based on the discussion in Chapter E, Chapter F develops a comprehensive vision for reorganizing the institutional and organizational structure of global environmental policy in the form of an "Earth Alliance." The Earth Alliance rests on three cross-cutting pillars. The first pillar, Earth Assessment, represents a coordinated and integrated system for continual analysis and evaluation of the global environment and development situation. The second (and central) pillar, Earth Organization, concentrates and structures all relevant regimes and trustee-ships, in particular, the central environmental conventions. The third pillar, Earth Funding, unites the totality of all financial and other resources for effective "Earth System" management, in which payment for use of the global commons, precautionary adaptation, and compensation funds play an essential role.

In reality, although the WSSD agreed on the WBGU's idea of reforming UN organizations, it took no significant and specific step toward the reform. The Plan of Implementation, one of the two main documents negotiated and adopted in the WSSD, refers to the role of international institutions in paragraphs 133 to 140. b Those paragraphs call for structural reform, such as strengthening cooperation among the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and other UN bodies and specialized agencies, and strengthening of the international institutional framework for sustainable development. However, the Summit did not present a concrete plan of structural reform of international institutions. "The Summit has not produced a strengthening of the United Nations Environment Programme, not to mention a World Environment Organization-[and] on this account, it has failed," said Dr. Hartmut Grassl, Chair of the WBGU. c

What is the significance of this book after the WSSD then? Paragraph 140 of the Plan of Implementation states, "Strengthening of the international institutional framework for sustainable development is an evolutional process." This book has much to offer to this "evolutional process." First, it presents the structural vision of international environmental institutions, which consists of three cross-cutting areas crucial for international environmental policymaking and policy implementation. Second, it recommends the establishment of comparable scientific bodies to advise and provide support in areas such as soil, biodiversity, and risk, following the example of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Third, it suggests the strengthened role of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, fostering linkages and dialogue among the various countries involved, the UN organizations, the Earth Commission, the scientific community, and non-governmental organizations. Finally, it suggests an innovative approach to funding the environment-the levying of user charges for the tapping of global community resources, such as international air space, the high seas, or space.

However, its recommendation on the principle of policymaking should not be introduced in the "evolutional process." It is true that the international policymaking process, requiring consensus, takes quite a long time to reach agreement. Yet the proposed hierarchical approach-moving beyond the consensus principle, introducing smaller decision-making bodies, and depriving minorities of their veto power-would harm not only the sovereignty but also the environment of the under-represented nations. In the effort to reform the international institutions, it will be one of the biggest challenges to develop a policymaking principle which can protect sovereignty and provide swift and effective remedies to global environment problems.


International Review for Environmental Strategies (IRES) Volume3 Number2 (Winter 2002)