Year XXXIV, 1992, Number 3 - Page 169
From Common Rules to a World Environmental Government*
1. From the 3rd to the 14th of June, over 100 heads of state and government and national leaders sought to deal with ecological problems using the politics of world summitry within the framework of the UN-sponsored Rio Conference on the environment and development (UNCED). About 150 states signed two treaties in Rio: one on climate protection, the other about safeguarding biodiversity (not signed by the United States). A Declaration of Rio, which set down the principles states should follow to promote environmental-compatible development, and Agenda 21, a plan to make the commitments undertaken in Rio become reality, were both adopted. In Agenda 21, which aims ambitiously to set the guiding principles of UN activity in environmental issues into the next century, the states recognised “the need for institutional reform of the United Nations, and for action which is based on the principles of globality, democracy and responsibility.” But the sole institutional innovation in the Agenda is the proposal to establish a Commission for sustainable development, whose tasks and powers are left undefined.
As regards North-South relations, the absence of binding decisions on the availability of increased financial resources and technological transfers, leaves the World Bank, IMF, GATT and G7 (all institutions in which the poorest countries currently have scant influence) with discretionary control over the modes of financing national environmental policies. Southern countries, with China and the Group of 77 (that now represents more than 100 states) at their head, make up a majority of the human race both in terms of population and numbers of states. Yet they only managed to obtain a rider to Agenda 21 that proclaimed the need to democratise the running of certain of the World Bank’s intervention structures in the environmental field.
2. The results of the Rio Conference, when compared to federalist demands, leads to a negative judgement. No world authority was created at Rio; nor was any decision taken to introduce an international environmental tax; nor was any reform of the UN initiated. The Rio Conference did not even represent an advance, as far as proposals are concerned, from the Hague international summit on the environment, held on 11 March 1989. On that occasion, 24 heads of state and government, Mitterrand and Kohl among them, signed a declaration calling for the creation of an authority that would have as its purpose the conservation of the earth’s atmosphere; to which end it would be responsible for the struggle against global warming by exploiting an effective decision-making structure that would function even in the event that a unanimity agreement were not forthcoming.
In the wake of the Rio summit, world public opinion has undoubtedly acquired a greater appreciation of the need to establish new international common rules in the environmental field. Equally, it has been able to take note of the inefficiency, the lack of democracy and laboriousness of the intergovernmental approach, as enacted by about 180 states.
In fact, the organisers attempted to apply the model of European integration at the world level (albeit in an uncertain and inadequate manner), without taking into account that from the outset this has only in part been based on intergovernmental action. In his memoirs, Jean Monnet recalled that the birth of the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community) in 1951 was the result of a commitment by a small group of European states (led by France and Germany) to go beyond a simple agreement about common rules in the strategic sectors of coal and steel, due to a common concern about a return to the conflicts of the past. In fact, the ECSC Treaty, thanks to Jean Monnet’s foresight, and the agreement of France and Germany, was not a normal international agreement for the regulation of coal exploitation and steel production. Instead, it marked the creation “of the first legal steps towards a larger and deeper community” between peoples that until then had been divided by bloody conflict. In this way, from its very outset, the ECSC was endowed with institutions that anticipated its transformation into a solid federal union. Indeed, as an example, the Treaty provided for the creation of a High Authority under the control of an Assembly which would, at some future date, have to be directly elected by European citizens (this was achieved in 1979).
There was no evident leadership in Rio to equal that shown by France and Germany in 1950’s Europe. The US, USSR and European Community, which at the beginning of preparations for the Rio Conference had seemed destined to take on this role, gradually withdrew from the limelight. The USSR, which had repeatedly proposed UN reforms that reflected the environmental emergency, fell apart. The European Community, which had been called on to sponsor a document about possible institutional solutions and which had launched the proposal of a carbon tax, arrived at the deadline in Rio following the Danish “no” to Maastricht, when it seemed that the conclusion of the process of European union had been put in doubt. The US, which during the preparatory stage had sought to dispute both the new Soviet vision and the European proposals, was happy to sustain that there was no reason to subjugate American environmental policy to new international rules.
3. The Rio meeting greatly raised the hopes of world public opinion and of the hundreds of non-governmental organisations that, with various international initiatives, sought by all means available to influence the outcome of the Conference. Among the most memorable of these initiatives were the collection of millions of citizen’s signatures on various appeals, the pressure applied to parliamentarians throughout the world, and a Global Forum held alongside the world summit of the heads of state and government in which the representatives of about 2,000 organisations participated. As we have seen, the Conference was unable to give a satisfactory response to these expectations. But it was not able to ignore them. Indeed, two deadlines were set in Agenda 21 in relation to which many European and American environmental organisations have already started work: the new Commission on sustainable development should meet by the end of 1993; and by the end of 1997 the General Assembly should hold a special session to verify if, and in what way, the decisions taken at Rio have had a result, and to plan further action in the institutional sphere. These dates assume particular significance if another deadline, one proposed by the Secretary General of the UN, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, in his Agenda for Peace, is taken into consideration 1995, by when the first stage of the reform of the United Nations should have been effected.
The 1990’s, then, presage a period in which mankind will have the second opportunity this century (the first being lost with the failure of the League of Nations) to establish the foundations of a solid world community. In this perspective, the Rio Conference should be considered as a step forward only to the extent in which it is exploited to accelerate the democratic strengthening of world institutions. This will be possible if the creation of a world parliamentary assembly is begun, and the proposals of the 1946 Baruch Plan are taken up again. The Baruch Plan provided, in the military sphere, for: a) the abolition of the right of veto with regard to sanctions and punishments against states defaulting on agreements relating to the pacific use of nuclear energy; and b) the attribution of responsibility for atomic energy research and use to a world authority under the direct control of the Security Council. Should the Rio decisions be exploited for maintaining the status quo, however, the Conference will be seen as one in a long series of failures by the states.
In conclusion, it is worth emphasising that the opportunity to reform the UN along democratic lines risks disappearing irretrievably, should the process of world integration (which in the coming years seems destined to proceed more rapidly in the area of defining common rules for military and ecological security) not be securely anchored to a gradual strengthening of international institutions. In this area, federalists can make a contribution to defining an international initiative for democratic reform of the UN – on the basis of their long experience in campaigning for direct elections to the European Parliament in the 1970’s, and their current activity which aims to give this Parliament a constituent mandate. In relation to this point, it is worth remembering that at Rio the World Federalist Movement was recognised as playing a leading role in coordinating the activities of the non-governmental organisations. As a result, it is possible to take the unfinished business of the Rio Conference as a starting point, and re-double efforts to prepare the ground for the constitutional evolution of world institutions. It is such action that enables the citizens of the countries of the world to affirm their right to play a role in the preparation of the constituent stage for the creation of a world federation.
* In this issue we have published some of the contributions presented at the international Convention held in Turin, 11 April 1992, on the theme “For a world government for the environmental emergency: a world agency for the environment, and a global carbon tax.” The Convention was organised by the European Federalist Movement in conjunction with the World Federalist Movement, in view of the then imminent United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio.