Smoke on the Water

Current and former UNEP Executive Directors (seated).<br> Photo: Mark Gold

Current and previous UNEP Executive Directors (seated). Photo: Suzanne Biegel

Over the weekend, I went down to Montreux on the Lake Geneva shoreline. I didn’t see Zappa, but I did witness environmental history. For the first time ever, all five people who have served as executive directors of the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) attended the same event.

Maurice Strong, the founder and father of the Stockholm Conference and the Rio Earth Summit, is in Montreux. He’s joined by current director Achim Steiner, and past directors Klaus Topfer, Mostafa Tolba and Elizabeth Dowdeswell.

They are joined by a who’s who of UN environmental dignitaries to discuss the future of global environmental governance. With the Copenhagen climate change summit just around the corner in December, there’s an urgency to coming up with real, tangible recommendations to fix the ineffective, fractionalized system we have in place right now.

UNEP is underfunded, not empowered, and has struggled with the task of effectively coordinating over 500 multinational environmental agreements. And UNEP is not providing the essential function of ensuring accountability through environmental assessment, compliance assurance and enforcement.

The kudos for pulling off this gathering of enviro legends goes to a young professor at William and Mary, Maria Ivanova. She has worked with Dan Esty and Gus Speth from Yale, the Swiss government, the UN and others to partner on this critical endeavor.

Now that the band is back together, I hope that the inspiration of the Swiss Alps and Lake Geneva are enough to come up with some hard-hitting global environmental governance reform recommendations. We sorely need to hold nations and corporations accountable for the fate of the planet.

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