18 October 2010

The need for a World Environmental Organization

An article in mondial, the newsletter of the Canadian branch of the World Federalists, makes an excellent case for a World Environment Organization (WEO) comparable to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The authors, Larry Kazdan and Fergus Watt, suggest a WEO could fulfill a number of functions including:

• monitor environmental agreements for compliance
• provide technical advice and support to help agreements
• establish a dispute settlement mechanism
• establish a world environmental court with powers to take legal action against offenders
• set international norms for environmental responsibility

Their argument is unassailable. Dealing with climate change and the myriad other assaults we make on the planet is our number one challenge. If our economy continues to exceed the capacity of our environment, our civilization will eventually collapse. That is the magnitude of the challenge. This means caring for the environment must precede caring for the economy. A WEO should therefore take precedence over the WTO. Yet, as Kazdan and Watt point out, while the WTO has powers to enforce trade rules on national governments, environmental standards are ignored with impunity.

International environmental governance is currently provided by the UN Environment Program (UNEP) and various treaties. Unfortunately, UNEP is a rather isolated body with a trivial budget. According to Kazdan and Watt, the result is a global environmental governance that is, by design, "weak and fragmented."

One of the major themes of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 will be establishing an institutional framework for sustainable development. A WEO would seem a natural outcome. If our government wants to be perceived as a leader on the world stage, perhaps even be deemed worthy of a seat on the UN Security Council, here is the best possible arena in which to prove itself.


  1. Good idea but dead on arrival. To succeed it would require two things: full American participation and some mechanism binding nations to its rulings.

    The WTO was a creature of Washington as was GATT. The US Congress isn't going to support anything that, to them, represents a limitation to American exceptionalism.

    Today the UN summit on biodiversity opened in Nagoya, Japan. Der Spiegel has already pronounced the 12-day conference a failure specifically because the White House and Congress are utterly indifferent to the biodiversity problem.

    No, Bill, a WEO is a wonderful idea, entirely necessary, and utterly unattainable. We're all Easter Islanders now.

  2. My heart keeps telling me you're wrong, but my head keeps telling me you're right.