Year XXXIV, 1992, Number 3 - Page 245
A Global System of Environmental Protection
The ecological issues confronting us are indeed complex. Many of them are escalating and threaten health and life on earth (if not properly acted upon). I shall not bore you with facts and figures about these threats. The evidence is considerable and no doubt well-known to this audience. Over recent decades people and governments have gradually become more and more aware of these threats and challenges. The reaction has, however, been slow and piecemeal, without a proper overall strategy and plan. The 1987 Brundtland report on Environment and Development was in many ways an eye-opener and demonstrated the need for closer international coordination, cooperation and a stronger response. The 1989 Hague Declaration by 24 Heads of State and Govemment called for “a new approach... including new and more effective decision-making and enforcement mechanisms.”
Expert Commission and WFM.
I would now like to introduce you to a proposal elaborated by a Commission of 42 experts in Norway for a more effective world-wide method for adoption and execution of environmental regulations than our present sectorial conventions. The expert group, which I had the honour and pleasure of leading, consisted of individuals (all acting in a personal capacity) of high standing and broad experience from the fields of environment, science, industry, business, finance, armed forces, politics and, most important of all, international law. The Commission’s proposal was adopted last summer by the World Federalist Movement’s Congress and is now a substantive part of WFM’s environmental policy. The Congress, however, added that the proposed system should be monitored by a UN (Environmental) Parliamentary Assembly and this point is particularly emphasised in the covering letter by the WFM’s Executive Committee chairperson Keith Best.
The Commission started its work with extensive research which produced a comprehensive register of 15 international resolutions, 10 intergovernmental declarations and 164 multilateral conventions for the protection of various aspects of the environment. The conventions are categorized, analysed and systematically surveyed regarding methods employed for enactment of international regulations, including monitoring, controlling and sanctioning. Time does not permit a detailed description of this work. I will therefore only highlight the main conclusions drawn.
First, there has been slow progress from simple declarations and treaties between sovereign states to an increasing recognition of the need for international legislation.
Second, several environmental conventions and problems are interrelated and partially overlapping, i.e. the climate conventions clearly relate to the ozone layer and tropical forest conventions, and so on.
Third, there is a lack of coordination and cooperation between the different international institutions and procedures established.
In other words the research work clearly demonstrates that present methods and systems are inadequate, inefficient, costly and do not meet the global environmental challenges confronting mankind today and in the future. In addition many of the conventions need to be supplemented by provisions for surveillance and verification, and for sanctions against violators. On the other hand the research work served a useful purpose in describing both developments and trends so far, and the present situation, and thus gave the Commission a firmer platform as a point of departure for its own deliberations.
Many aspects of environmental threats are international. They affect neighbouring countries and the world at large and cannot be adequately met by national action alone. This is accepted by most countries. Environmental restrictions however may involve serious economic and other sacrifices for the states concerned, or a deterioration of their competitive position in the international market. States may therefore not be willing to act unless others do likewise. And many states are unable to initiate the necessary measures without financial assistance. The system we propose foresees financial assistance to developing countries and others who will be disproportionally burdened by environmental restrictions, through a system of taxation, funds and economic aid.
A General UN System for Protection of the Environment.
In response to the present global situation and the many calls for new approaches, we propose a new general convention which would in the first place progressively serve as an “umbrella convention” for existing and new environmental conventions. It would also provide institutional arrangements and procedures for legislation, monitoring and sanctions where these are lacking today. The ultimate aim is to establish a consolidated system covering the major aspects of environmental protection with common institutions and harmonized principles for enactment and enforcement, as well as a common system for research, monitoring and verification.
The basic structure of this new UN system is as follows:
a) a Plenary Assembly (such as the UN General Assembly or a special environmental assembly consisting of representatives of all states who have acceded to the general convention) for the adoption of binding international regulations by qualified majority vote.
b) a smaller Executive Council, consisting of representatives of a limited number of member states, including a number of permanent members and an additional number of members to be elected for limited periods on a rotating basis. No individual state would enjoy the right of veto.
c) a Secretariat which in addition to serving the Executive Council and Assembly and performing other normal secretarial functions could also organize and carry out monitoring and enforcement either as a distinct unit of the Secretariat or as an additional separate organ.
d) an International Environmental Court to settle disputes relating to all relevant conventions. (This Court would not be necessary if the statute of the International Court of Justice could be amended to admit international organizations as parties to disputes.)
Principles of Governance and Parliamentary Assembly.
Democratic representation, accountability, and decision-making at the appropriate level of society are basic principles of governance. To meet the threats to life on this planet which are world-wide in scope, new trans-boundary international laws, rights and obligations are necessary. However, the new institutions proposed by the Commission should therefore be directly accountable to the citizens of the world through democratic participation. The World Federalist Movement consequently suggests that a Parliamentary Assembly with consultative status be elected from the parliaments of participating governments, to monitor the decisions taken by the Executive Council and hence serve as a democratic body representing the peoples of the world.
Execution and Verification.
In order to promote effective implementation of, and compliance with, the decisions of the new institutional authority, we propose an international Monitoring and Inspection Service. But this should as far as possible rely on the existing services of states, IGOs and NGOs, including the proposed International Satellite Monitoring Agency.
The system we propose includes eight types of sanction against violators, varying from very mild to effective punishment. The latter could of course only be imposed for violations of legal obligations, and there would exist the right to appeal to the Court (ICJ). Examples of such sanctions are: publication of the violation and the violator; import duties on goods produced in violation of the regulations; fines; punishment of individuals (Saddam Hussein).
Super-and major powers may not accept being outvoted by a majority of smaller powers. We therefore suggest that weighted voting may be necessary. But there should be no single state that can prevent adoption by veto; there should possibly exist the right to opt out within, for example, 3 months. It is worth noting that weighted voting already exists in some organizations: for example in the European Community and the international telecommunications satellite organizations (INTELSAT, INMARSAT, etc.).
The citizens of the world need a shared global vision so that we can gather together our fragmented efforts into a focused attempt to save our common future. It is difficult to see how decision-making in international institutions can become effective unless we introduce new elements of supranational rule and legislation. Countries have sovereignty over their national resources, but decisions on emissions as well as the use of toxic and hazardous substances which affect us all will be illusory if we can only move forwards at a snail’s pace decided by the slowest ship in the convoy (those most reluctant to take action). In the long run, a comprehensive UN system, as proposed by us, would streamline the administration of a wide range of environmental treaties and conventions while at the same time making the job of monitoring environmental legislation more practical.
The Earth Summit in Rio.
Our short term goal is that the Earth Summit in Rio in June should agree to include in Agenda 21 (follow-up tasks) to start work on a general UN convention for Protection of the Environment along the lines proposed by us, by establishing a committee of experts which will, of course, also take into account other similar proposals that have been made by others. We are lobbying hard to achieve this and welcome all the support you can give us in this respect.
At the same tin1e, and in parallel, we are striving to get the proposal onto the agenda of the 6th Committee of the UN General as well as onto the agenda of the UN Decade of International Law.