Time to Consider a World Environment Organization
(Excerpts from a speech delivered to the First Preparatory Meeting World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability—12/10/11)
As you are aware, the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development will take place in Brazil on 4-6 June 2012 to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), in Rio de Janeiro, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg.
According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber and fuel. While these changes contributed to substantial net gains in human well-being and economic development, they came with a cost in terms of degradation of the environment, and the exacerbation of poverty in many areas of the world.
Despite the steps forward, there are still many things to be done to achieve the targets set in Rio in 1992 and reiterated at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. To address the current challenges and their alarming consequences, renewed political commitment is required. We also need a commonality of direction, and more concrete and focused "investment" to achieve the ever evolving global sustainability objectives. In doing this we can build on what we have, and make it stronger.
While a very complex infrastructure is in place, it needs to be streamlined and strengthened to become more effective. Furthermore, a sustainable future needs to be founded upon a strong judiciary system. The full participation of all stakeholders within a framework of justice, governance and rule of law is needed for any strategy for sustainability to be successful.
Although prosperity and progress have been made on many fronts, every single international summit focusing on sustainable development has stressed that progress since Rio in 1992 has been slow, and that the rate of environmental degradation has not decreased significantly despite the efforts undertaken by the international community.
Since I took office back in 2009 Malaysia has been focusing on the initial ‘adoption edge’, working to build greater public awareness of green technologies alongside support for their adoption and application. The Malaysian Green Technology Policy was also introduced which marks an important milestone in our country’s journey to the future, as we take cognizance of the need for better and more efficient use of technology which will also be less harmful to the environment
Now, in the next stage, key Government policies are being reoriented towards developing a green ‘production edge’. I am determined to see Malaysia become a major producer of eco technology products not just in our region but globally, and I hope that this will in turn translate into an increase in the number of green jobs and green business opportunities.
To help achieve this goal, the Government has put in place a National Eco-Labelling Programme to ensure that businesses make credible claims about their products and to raise awareness among both consumers and manufacturers about environmentally-friendly products and services.
The National Eco-Labelling Programme is a precursor to the new National Green Procurement Policy, which will seek to promote and facilitate green procurement by both the Government and private sector. In any country, Government is usually the biggest consumer, and if Government buys green there is a good chance this will spur industry growth and increase market demand.
In order to help create an environment that will propel Malaysia’s transition towards a low carbon economy and to ensure we meet our pledge to reduce the carbon intensity of national production by 40 percent by 2020, the Government has recently launched the Low Carbon Cities Framework and Assessment System that serves as a guide and is used to assess the development of low carbon cities as well as to support sustainable development in Malaysia
The World Congress provides a timely opportunity to examine contemporary norms and principles of justice, governance and law in the area of environmental sustainability and the inherent interlinkages among them.
The World Congress further provides an opportunity to decide on steps for the further evolution and implementation of these norms and principles, which will in turn provide a way forward for addressing the sustainability challenges of the 21st century. This preparatory meeting is particularly important because it will give the chance to lay the foundations for the deliberations that will be made at the World Congress.
The entire world, represented by its leaders, will be faced with a tremendous opportunity in Rio next year. The Rio+20 Summit will, among other things, debate and deliberate on what is the most effective Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development.
From the perspective of the Government of Malaysia and many other governments, only with a major overhaul of the governance system will we be able to address the challenges of environmental sustainability. I am sure that you will agree with me that the existing systems are so complicated that it is virtually impossible for countries, especially developing countries, to participate effectively.
Most of the global organizations we have today were designed and negotiated by the developed world, while developing countries stood on the sidelines. We have to change the approach: the International Environmental Governance system has to respond better to developing countries' needs in their pursuit of sustainable development.
I believe the time is appropriate to consider the creation of a World Environment Organization (WEO) to anchor the global efforts for the environment. However unlike the World Trade Organization (WTO) which is regulatory and sets standards, the proposed environmental body should be consultative and facilitative to assist countries to meet the global commitments derived from mutual agreements.
I was informed that over the years the international community has adopted hundreds of multilateral environmental agreements, all with their own secretariats and administrations. Between 1992 to 2007, the 18 major MEAs alone convened some 540 meetings which produced over 5,000 decisions that countries are supposed to act upon through national efforts.
It has become virtually impossible for developing countries to participate meaningfully. The only countries that cope with the system are the richest countries of the world while the developing nations are becoming disenfranchised.
A new body like the WEO could help facilitate the participation of developing countries in a more realistic and meaningful way.
The World Congress is a unique opportunity to engage in the Rio+20 debates on governance and to become an active participant, especially for developing countries, with proposals matching our needs for development.
From this meeting and the World Congress you have the opportunity to send clear messages on how we can move forward on the International Environmental Governance at all levels by bringing a new perspective to the debate.
Our success at overcoming some of our many challenges to date is a tribute to the resolve and determination of the global community and contributes to a sense of hope. Let us find and continue along a green path towards greater prosperity for humankind.
The opinions expressed in these articles are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of UNEP