A World Environmental Organisation[i]
In the July 10th 2010 edition of The Economist, the respected international current affairs magazine lambasted the United Nations body, the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) and in particular its chair, eminent scientist Dr. Rajenda Pachauri, over the failure by the organisation to respond quickly and immediately to Climategate (the release of damaging emails between climate researchers), which helped undermine a global agreement on climate change at Copenhagen last year.[ii]
Two weeks later, a deeply wounded Dr. Pachauri responded and explained amongst other things that the IPCC is an organisation that runs on £5m ($8.7M) a year, with the voluntary support of the intellectual contribution from the wider academic community, advancing the knowledge of climate science upon which the IPCC administers, coordinates, forms policies and publishes.[iii]
How can we say that we are serious about environmental issues when we only give $8.7M to a body that is the global authority on climate change issues? It is about time we seriously think about setting up a definitive global body on environmental issues in the way the World Trade Organisation (WTO) acts for trade, and tariff-related disputes and issues. The WTO experienced teething problems as it transformed from the General Agreements on Trade and Tariff (GATT), but it has proved an essential body as world trade continues to expand.
Like many people around the world, I felt saddened by the failure to reach a global accord at Copenhagen. The weakening of the resolve for urgent reform by the selective interpretation of data that foreshadowed Copenhagen, and the character assassination of climate scientists, was an exercise in industrial espionage of breathtaking proportions. A properly funded, independent and authoritative global environmental organisation dedicated to climate research is required to ensure there is no repeat of vested interests sabotaging independent science.
It is disheartening to see how the decade opened so brightly with a farewelling of, the carbon economy of the 20th century, and embracing the 21st century bold era of sustainable energy solutions, has dissipated so tragically with the disappointment of Copenhagen. Realistically, industry and trade are dependent on, and subsidiary to the environment – if there is no viable environment, there can be no viable industry or trade. Yet we now have the absurdity of having environmental issues treated as an adjunct of the WTO.
We need a proper and appropriate forum to advance science, develop policy and highlight significant issues: a World Environment Organisation (WEO) or Global Environment Organisation (GEO) as proposed at the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Climate Conference.[iv]
Firstly, this organisation will provide a forum to encompass the broad cathedral of issues advocated by different stakeholders. As Ian McGregor, a researcher at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), describes there is a need to bring together the policy coalitions of the environment: governments, the private sector, the low-lying nation-states( who are the canaries in the coalmines as sea levels rise), and the numerous non-governmental organisations whose advocacy remind us all what we may have overlooked.
Secondly, this body will have a research and policy unit that will investigate and publish papers for public dissemination that cover the three pressing issues that the IPCC’s working groups have been diligently working on:
1. The science of climate change
2. Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability
3. Mitigation of climate change
Thirdly, this institution will deal with the impact and ramification of events such as BP’s monstrous catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. For the first time, powerful multinational companies will answer to a multinational body that has the mandate to exact responsibility and accountability from them. This is recognition that society expects companies to carry out their triple bottom line responsibilities:
Presently the variety of bodies who deal with global environmental issues are symptomatic of displacement, bureaucracy, lack of unity, inability to communicate with the rest of society, and a failure to articulate an overall vision for the environment.
We can organise globally and form institutions to deal with interconnected issues that affect us all. We do have the ability to cooperate internationally in the common interest. Most recently this was witnessed when the G20 countries cooperated and provided leadership regarding the global financial crisis, rather than face the risk of another Great Depression.
We need a global institution to defend the planet because the planet cannot defend itself. We are the stewards and guardians of this precious and fragile earth on which we dwell. Let the institution-building begin: a global environmental body to look after the health of the earth.
[iii]Pachauri, R.K. (2010) Letters to the Editor, The Economist http://www.economist.com/node/16636429?story_id=16636429
[iv] See Biermann F. & Bauer, S. (2005) (eds.) A World Environmental Organization: Solution or Threat for Effective International Environmental Governance, Aldershot UK: Ashgate