About UNEP UNEP Offices News Centre Publications Events Awards Milestones UNEP Store
UNEP Website GEO Home Page

A redefinition of roles ...

With the growth in global public policy networks, governments, particularly at the national level, often find themselves trying to keep up with what is happening in other sectors and at other levels. In a sense, the leaders have become followers, although they continue to have significant roles. They remain responsible for setting and implementing overall national policy and negotiating and ratifying international treaties. Nation states remain the key players in the areas of national and international security. The public sector retains a pivotal regulatory role, as awareness dawns that laissez faire policies often promoted in the name of economic development do nothing to correct flaws in market practices. It also holds a brief to amend existing policies (notably subsidies for natural resource extraction) that encourage such imperfections.

Demand for more participation, transparency and accountability on all sides drives a number of policy shifts. A move away from reliance on exported raw materials towards producing more value added locally is highlighted in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa and parts of North America. Expansion of micro-credit and similar schemes is particularly important in the developing world, enabling smallscale producers and manufacturers to purchase the inputs needed to increase the scale and productivity of their operations. Another pattern that emerges worldwide is a shift in the nature of taxes and subsidies towards promoting more sustainable habits of resource use.

'The values of simplicity, cooperation and community begin to displace those of consumerism, competition and individualism.'

New opportunities arise from looking at problems on a larger scale, with a view to recognizing limits and identifying solutions. One example is the opportunity to couple the issues of ageing and shrinking workforces in Europe and parts of Asia and the Pacific, with continued population growth and migration pressures in other regions. Another involves drawing more conscious links between the issue of water stress and the trading of 'virtual' water in the form of agricultural products. This linkage is accorded high priority within susceptible regions, such as West Asia as part of the Arab Free Trade Association, but it also occurs in region-to-region discussions.