A Collapse of Governance

The U.N. has once again failed to act to protect such endangered species as Atlantic bluefin tuna.

I always thought that a species was endangered if the organism’s population plummeted to a fraction of historic levels.  In California, the scourge of DDT and PCBs led to the listing of the California Brown Pelican on the federal endangered species list.  With listing comes additional protection. Recently, the Brown Pelican recovered enough to be taken off the list.

But last week a United Nations body came up with a new definition of endangered species that simply boggles the mind.

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Disunited Nations, Part 2

It is time for the public to hold the UN and the world’s nations accountable for the miserable state of the environment and their inability to effectively manage existing “green” governance programs.

An independent non-government organization like the International Union for Conservation of Nature, World Resources Institute or the International Council for Science needs to develop a credible, science-based system for grading all nations and responsible UN agencies’ compliance with environmental treaties and agreements.

More important, the report card should provide the public with a user friendly assessment of nations’ and UN agencies’ efforts to protect clean water, adequate water supply, clean air, sustainable food supply and other critical needs. Perhaps this type of communication tool could be used to embarrass nations and the UN to do more than just sign treaties and contemplate where the world went wrong.

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Disunited Nations

UN environmental governance programs are failing the Earth

UN environmental governance programs are failing the Earth

The fathers and mothers of the international environmental movement all met in Montreux this week to reminisce and relive past exploits of green diplomacy at a conference hosted by the  Global Environmental Governance Project.

The list of attendees reads like an environmental hall of fame: Maurice Strong (he of Stockholm, Rio and Earth Charter fame); the other three  former heads of the UN environmental program; Achim Steiner, the current head of UNEP; William Ruckelshaus, the first and fifth EPA administrator; Ambassador John McDonald, the creator of the UN population program and revered negotiator; Mohamed El-Ashry,  the former CEO of the Global Environment Facility;  Ambassador Peter Mauer from Switzerland; Gus Speth, the dean of Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, a founder of the NRDC and former director of the UN Development Group.

The group also included Jim MacDaniel;  former chair of the International Institute of Sustainable Development;  Julia Marton-Lefevre , the director-general of the world’s largest environmental group — the International Union for Conservation of Nature; and numerous other ambassadors, from Pakistan to Sudan.

With such a truly impressive gathering of enviro legends, I expected the debate to be provocative and hopeful. Depressingly, the discussions were like “Groundhog Day.”

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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.

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