Challenging reforms to international environmental governance


By Sheila Aggarwal-Khan PhD, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Kenya


There is growing interest in reforming the governance of the environment at the international level because there is concern that the environment continues to deteriorate and environmental management is not achieving the result intended. But, can there ever be a healthy global environment when so many political and economic goals within societies surpass the desire for wise use of natural resources? Although there are many who acknowledge the social, economic and political factors underlying environmental problems, it is far from evident that this appreciation of the ways in which multiple people with quite different agendas affect the fate of environmental governance.


Few intergovernmental debates go by without discussing the creation of a world environmental organization or the need for improving the ability of international environmental institutions to coordinate their work better. Both governments and environmental institutions see complex multilateral environmental agreements requiring more international support for implementation. Policy implementation is expected to improve with better access to information, the development of capacity, and an increase in financing. Even so, the implications of these proposed reforms on the implementation of environmental policy – and on environmental management in general – are far from clear when competing economic and political goals of societies are taken into account.


Considering actual contexts in which policy and the solutions to environmental problems are to be implemented, and by whom, at all stages of decision-making in policy processes is key if environmental governance is to achieve the result intended. In international environmental governance, this means adopting standard practices that question whose knowledge claims are being considered and whose are being neglected at all stages of the policy process. It also means identifying which agendas and interests of groups may have been omitted and must be considered in solutions advocated in policy if policy and in general environmental governance is to be effective.


About the author

Dr Sheila Aggarwal-Khan is Head of Strategic Planning in the  UNEP Quality Assurance Section, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). She is one of the judges of the INTERNATIONAL GREEN AWARDS™ 2012. To find out more, visit her profile.

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