Environmental protection is an important and interesting subject because of its sensitivity as far as the quality of life is concerned. The matter to do with the environmental conservation and protection has become a topic of concern all over the world as nations seek the solutions to the degrading environment. It is globally accepted that the current trends in the quality of environment are wanting and call for sustainable development through global governance1.
A majority of nations have joined hands to discuss the possibilities and ways that environmental conservation and protection can be realized. They have continued to give this matter an upfront consideration owing to its importance and sensitivity. Hence, they have partnered with international organizations that help in addressing this issue on global scale.
Introduction to Global Governance and Environment
The global environmental system comprises of the oceans, the atmosphere, the terrestrial systems, the fresh water systems, and the cryosphere. The present state of these systems has evolved over a number of years. Human beings have played a role in the evolution of this systems leading to the present forms that they exist. In addition, the implications that human beings have played part either intentionally or unintentionally has led to the modification of this systems leading to what is referred to as environmental degradation2. These far reaching consequences happen on across the globe, thus posing a threat to humanity and biodiversity at large. In order to mitigate these consequences, there is need for global governance that ascertains the consequential effects and provides guidelines on how to maintain the systems.
Global Governance refers to the political collaboration and cooperation between nations with the objective of finding favorable, sustainable, and lasting solutions to problems affecting one country, countries or extensive geographical region. Environmental degradation refers to the disintegration of the earth system from its initial state or form. This is mainly attributable to human or anthropogenic factors such as industrialization, agriculture among others. These lead to effects such as loss of biodiversity, global warming, pollution, drought among others. In order to mitigate such effects on global scale, there has been the establishment of international government organizations such as United Nations, whose umbrellas include the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) that specifically deals with matters of environment with the aim of posterity3.
Role of the United Nation Environmental Program on Environment
The United Nations, through the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), guides both the developing and developed nations in the undertaking of development projects that have been identified to be a threat to the quality of the environment4. It is clear that environment is life and without it, there will be no life. The UNEP, a branch of United Nations is obligated to carry out executing functions that help to conserve the environment in the developing nations.
The UNEP coordinates the environmental protection and management in the whole world. However, specific emphases have been laid to developing countries to ensure they do not engage in development practices that degrades the environment5. Therefore, UNEP discusses sustainable development and other environmental conservation initiatives with countries affected by a certain environmental issues. Since the industrial revolution, the condition of the environment has changed gradually. Scientists in this area indicate that the environment is slowly becoming inhabitable and if nothing is done today, posterity is at greater risk. Environment belongs to those who are living today and those who will come in the future. Therefore, the United Nations assist countries to implement sound environmental policies and practices.
Similarly, the UNEP plays a contributing effort in ensuring that new international agreements and conventions in the field of environmental law achieves consistency with the international trade rule under the World Trade Organization regime6. However, the quantification of the impact of trade on the environment is not an easy task. In regards to this, there is a clear provision of environmental conventions that restrict the free flow of trade. For instance, trading of endangered species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna is restricted as a measure of conserving the environment.
In addition, UNEP has a mandate of taking a leading role in the fostering of rapid development of environmental law in the direction of sustainable development. Therefore, it facilitates the implementation of international environmental laws and their development into coherent and cohesive laws. This makes it play a pivotal role in assisting both developed and developing countries in the establishment and strengthening of their legal, institutional and human capacities required in the attainment of sustainable development7.
Environmental Degradation Analysis as the Problem
The discernable shift in the development of international law for giving concrete expression to sustainable development has brought new and innovative ideas for fostering international cooperation in matters to do with environment. These ideas, principals, and concepts include the concern of humankind, the global partnerships, unique implementation and compliance mechanisms such as technology transfer arrangements and funding among others. Therefore, the social and economic concerns have been expressed within the legal framework. However, despite all these efforts that have even accommodated the scientific uncertainties in the negotiations off environmental conventions and agreements, the concerns about the environment have not been taken into account with the seriousness that it deserves. This can be depicted as illustrated below;
The concept of environmental degradation has far reaching consequences to both wildlife-biodiversity and humankind. There are various factors both legal, social, and economic that interplay leading to this menace of environmental degradation. However, the major problem in the environmental trends today is the global warming, which has continued to impact on the global climate8. It has far reaching consequences on both the survival and development activities on the planet. Human activities are identified as the major contributors to global warming whose effect is felt through climate change anomalies experienced in different parts of the globe.
Countries that make United Nations are the same as far as environmental protection and conservation is concerned. A major concern has been the recognition by both developing and countries with economies in transition on the applicability of sustainable development. Sustainable development entails development that meets the present needs without compromising on the future generation’s needs9. Similarly, it can be termed as living with the limits of the environment. Sustainable development has been considered central and important for international organizations such as the United Nations and to an extent to several governments across the globe. It has always been assumed by various agencies concerned with matters dealing with environment that developed nations focus more on sustainable development.
On the contrary, the same countries (developed nations) have been slammed for being the leading degraders of the environment. The United Nations has been a toothless dog as discussed by various studies10. It has failed severally to hit its objectives because of political manipulation by the powerful economies. The organization is not independent because it always appears to be championing specific agendas aligned to the economic and political interest of the big nations. Although it gets its funding from all the member states, it has not been able to treat all nations equally as far as the application of environmental laws is concerned.
The organization structure with the United Nation plays a key role in the implementation of key environmental concerns. For instance, United Nation receives funding from its member states. These funds help it in carrying out its specified mandates in the management of environmental issues on global scale. However, different countries have varying levels of funding that is channeled to the UN. Therefore, the execution and implementation of policies to member states by the United Nation seems to focus most on how each member state contributes. This makes countries with super economies such as the United States of America and China receive preferential treatment as compared to other member states.
Since United Nations receives enormous funding from nations such the United States and China, subjecting these countries to tough treatments of the law when they violate the environmental laws has been hard11. To some extent, these countries threaten to withdraw their monetary support if UNEP does not meet their objectives12. As a result, some nations have threatened to withdraw their membership from the United Nations saying that it is no longer the body they knew but another political tool for the big fish. Despite the fact that the high foundation note of the United Nations Environmental Programs, this organ has failed in its entrusted mandates. It has been short tuned by the developed nation to focus its eyes on the developing nations while the first world nations undertake the real environmental degradation activities. The battle towards the reduction of environmental degradation activities cannot be won when there is bipartisanship application of the law.
Further, the UNEP’s environmental policy implementation capacity building and support at national levels in a majority of countries are weak13. This makes it difficult to achieve a coherent and integrated response to environmental challenges. Therefore, the institutional and technical capacities at national level that are key to the implementation of environmental policies by UNEP are lacking making it difficult to achieve its mandate. For instance, lack of activities in national environmental management plans as integral parts of environmental policy implementation plays a vital role in the underachievement of environmental sustainability14.
There are various policy recommendations that need to be addressed by the UNEP. For instance, in the capacity building strategy developments, the processes should take into account the need for developing environmental planning guidelines. This will help in the provision of information, sound advice, and assistance to national and local authorities on matters to deal with the environmental management plan. In addition, it will help in the integration of environmental concerns into national economic and sectorial development plans.
In several countries, there is a gap in which environmental mitigation, vulnerability and adaptation responses and measures strategies are implemented. Therefore, the UNEP, which has the mandate of providing such support on a global scale, need to build in country capacity strategies for these key sectors. This will help in the enhancement of the capacities of the development planners and decision makers in such countries hence enabling them to integrate the environmental concerns in the development activities and national planning.
The United Nations will remain ceremonial and irrelevant organ in the eyes of majority nations if it does not make serious and radical changes in the management and running of the organization. As aforementioned, United Nations agencies no longer operate on their founding principles, but on outlined political and developmental manifesto of the developed nations. Therefore, UNEP should redefine its core mandates. The new role should be assessing the development projects and practices undertaken by nations to ascertain their soundness as far as sustainable development and environmental protection are concerned. The developed nations are the ones that are largely contributing to environmental degradation through various productions and manufacturing processes.
In addition, United Nations should champion for the establishment of a clause in its by-laws states a reasonable fine for any nation that attempts to influence its activities and operations. As mentioned earlier, United Nations has become a puppet for the power elites. The top management of UNEP should comprise of leaders from countries who are severely affected by the uncontrolled industrialization of the first world countries15. Lastly, United Nations should specify fines for member nations or individuals who misappropriate their offices. The United Nations should establish a compensation kit where the developed nations contribute above the normal contributions to help clean the damages they have done to the developing societies through economic productions and infrastructural development that undermine the environmental laws on sustainable development.