Slow road to green reformRichard Black 26 Feb 09, 10:20 GMT
It's been nine years since a gathering of environment ministers in the Swedish city of Malmo declared that the world urgently needed to reform the way it governed itself environmentally.
Change was needed, they said, including a "greatly strengthened institutional structure for international environmental governance... that has the capacity to effectively address wide-ranging environmental threats in a globalising world".
The ensuing years have seen various initiatives that would either reform the system or tear it up and start again. But even though many governments cite global environmental decline as a present and future disaster, there's been little progress on reforming the international bodies intended to lead the global response.
So you might think that as the issue raised its head again last week at UNEP's governing council meeting in Nairobi, the overwhelming emotion would be frustration.
And clearly there was frustration that despite nine years of talks and some constructive ideas, virtually nothing has changed.
But there was optimism too. And having spoken to some of the people at last week's meeting, much of it appears to have stemmed from just one word: Obama.
The single biggest event of the meeting was the agreement to regulate global emissions of mercury, a heavy metal pollutant with toxicities that include damaging people's nervous systems.
So what happens now? Well, the UNEP meeting set up a consultation process intended to produce some kind of reform package by 2012.
If the UN climate talks do produce a treaty as complex as many envisage, encompassing emission targets, clean technology transfer, funds for forest preservation with the rights of indigenous peoples assured, money to help poor countries adapt to climate impacts, and so on, it could make decisions on issues that logically ought to feature heavily in the overall environmental governance discussions.
Can it work? If it can, will the outcome be tinkering, or wholesale reform? If it is reform, will a new body include rules and sanctions, as does the World Trade Organization? How will it link environmental issues to human development?
These are all key questions, and much wrangling lies ahead before any answers emerge; but the mercury deal is being seen in some quarters as an indication that the glacial progress in many environmental issues is about to accelerate."
It's good that governments are working cooperatively on this problem. There is a solution: totally clean energy, with no emissions, and less expense than existing energies, and no need for biofuels that take up land that could be used for food. Everyone would benefit and governments could concentrate on other issues. For more information, please see www.campaignforgreen.com.