Published November 30, 2009
Environmentalism should be regarded on the same level with religion "as the only compelling, value-based narrative available to humanity," according to a paper written two years ago to influence the future strategy of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the world's would-be environmental watchdog.
The purpose of the paper, put together after an unpublicized day-long session in Switzerland by some of the world's top environmental bureaucrats: to argue for a new and unprecedented effort to move environmental concerns to "the center of political and economic decision-making" around the world — and perhaps not coincidentally, expand the influence and reach of UNEP at the tables of world power, as a rule-maker and potential supervisor of the New Environmental Order.
The positions argued in that paper now appear to be much closer at hand; many of them are embedded in a four-year strategy document for UNEP taking effect next year, in the immediate wake of the much-touted, 11-day Copenhagen conference on "climate change," which starts on Dec. 7, and which is intended to push environmental concerns to a new crescendo.
The major difference is that the four-year UNEP plan expresses its aims in the carefully soporific language that U.N. organizations customarily use to swaddle their objectives. The Swiss document makes its case passionately — and more plainly — than any U.N. official document ever would.
The ambitious paper, entitled "The UNEP That We Want," was the product of a select group of 20 top environmental bureaucrats and thinkers, including UNEP's current No. 2 official, Angela Cropper. The document was later delivered to UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
Other participants included Janos Pasztor, currently head of the team pushing U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's unprecedented Seal the Deal lobbying campaign to pressure U.N. member governments into signing a new environmental agreement at Copenhagen; Julia Marton-Lefevre, head of the World Conservation Union; Dominic Waughray, currently head of environmental initiatives at the World Economic Forum; and Maria Ivanova, a Bulgarian academic who is director of the Global Economic Governance Project at the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy.
Another important attendee was John Scanlon, listed on UNEP's website as principal advisor to UNEP's Steiner. Among other things, Scanlon is credited in his UNEP biography with being the leader in developing UNEP's new medium-term strategy, "Environment for Development," covering the period from 2010 to 2013. The draft version of the strategy was presented to a UNEP's Governing Council and a meeting of the world's environmental minister's in February 2008, and subsequently approved.
The Swiss paper was written not by Scanlon but by Mark Halle, the Europe-based director of trade and investment for an influential environmental think-tank, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), which originated in Canada and now operates in some 30 countries. IISD, which still has heavy Canadian government support, bills itself as a research institute promoting policies that are "simultaneously beneficial to the global economy, the global environment and to social well-being."
Even though all of the Swiss participants took part in the brainstorming, the responsibility for the ideas in the paper are his own, Halle emphasized to Fox News, after he was contacted last week about the document. The paper itself says it offers "elements," not a "complete offering," of what UNEP should consider for its role in the years ahead.
Despite those limitations, the report was "very well received" by UNEP's hierarchy, according to Halle, and "it has had a great impact internally." He added, "I have participated in several discussions and presentations of the ideas."
In fact, there is a high degree of overlap between the ideas pulled together at the small Swiss meeting of experts and the ideas that also appear in the new strategic plan for UNEP, a copy of which has been obtained by Fox News.
Those ideas are being espoused at a highly charged time. Both environmentalists and the entire United Nations, led by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, are still fervently pressuring governments around the world to sign a legally binding and more global successor to the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas suppression, which expires in 2012. At the moment, that deal appears likely to be delayed, at least until next spring, as some wealthy countries, including the U.S., balk at the high cost and potentially crippling economic impact of targets to reduce carbon emissions into the earth's atmosphere, even though President Barack Obama supports an ambitious Copenhagen deal.
But UNEP's strategic plan, as well as the IISD document that grew out of the Swiss gathering, look well beyond the horizon of Copenhagen in suggesting the outlines of the world's environment-centered future, to what the strategic plan calls "the next phase in the evolution of UNEP."
Among other things, both documents argue for:
—a "new and central position for environmentalism in the world's thinking," as the Swiss paper puts it. "The current environmental challenges and opportunities will cause the environment to move from often being considered as a marginal issue at the intergovernmental and national levels to the centre of political and economic decision-making," says the medium-term plan.
—a new position in the international power game for UNEP, reaching far beyond the member governments that currently finance its core budget and make up its normal supervisors. "It will have to make itself relevant well beyond the world of those already concerned with the environment, including very prominently its own formal constituency," as the Swiss paper puts it.
UNEP will "actively reach out to Governments, other United Nations entities, international institutions, multilateral environmental agreement secretariats, civil society, the private sector and other relevant partners to implement the Medium-term Strategy," says the UNEP document.
—a major restructuring of international institutions to merge environmental issues with economics as the central priority. "We require an Environmental Bretton Woods for the 21st Century," Halle argues — a reference to the meeting that laid the foundations of Western international finance and economic regulation after World War II. "The linkages between environmental sustainability and the economy will emerge as a key focus for public policymaking and a determinant of future markets opportunities," according to the UNEP strategic plan.
—new environmental rules, regulations and standards, and the linking of existing environmental agreements, in a stronger global lattice-work of environmental law, with stronger authority to command national governments. The Swiss paper calls it a series of "ambitious yet incremental adjustments" to international environmental governance. Indeed, the document says, UNEP's "role is to 'tee up' the next generation of such rules."
The UNEP four-year strategy puts it more obliquely, and only in a footnote on page 7 of the document: "UNEP will actively participate in the continuing international environmental governance discussions both within and outside the United Nations system, noting the repeated calls to strengthen UNEP, including its financial base, and the 'evolutionary nature of strengthening international environmental governance.'"
—an extensive propagandizing role for UNEP that reaches beyond its member governments and traditional environmental institutions to "children and youth" as well as business and political groups, to support UNEP strategic objectives.
As the Swiss paper puts it, UNEP "should pioneer a new style of work. This requires going beyond a narrow interpretation of UNEP's stakeholders as comprising its member states — or even the world's governments — and recruiting a far wider community of support, in civil society, the academic world and the private sector." At the same time the paper warns that these groups need to be "harnessed to the UNEP mission without appearing to make an end-run around the member governments."
The official four-year plan uses more restrained language in declaring that "civil society, including children and youth, and the private sector will be reached through tailor-made outreach products and campaigns.... Civil society will also be engaged to assist with UNEP outreach efforts." (The term "civil society," as used by the U.N., usually refers to organizations and associations that have received formal recognition from one branch or another of the sprawling world organization.)
—along with increased political leverage for UNEP, bringing increased financial leverage to its cause, once again by reaching beyond the national environmental ministries that traditionally are the organization's financial base to more powerful sectors of government as well as business and other interest groups that will see profit and advantage in the new, environment centered approach.
Says the Swiss paper: "UNEP must focus on priorities that meet two characteristics: they should appeal to the more powerful [government] ministers responsible for economic policy; and they should empower environmental ministers at the cabinet table. UNEP's message is not for environment ministers — the already converted.... It must aim higher."
As UNEP's four-year strategy more circumspectly puts it: "Mobilizing sufficient finance to meet environmental challenges, including climate change, extends well beyond global mechanisms negotiated under conventions. It will require efforts at local, national and global levels to engage with Governments and the private sector to achieve the necessary additional investment and financial flows."
As far as UNEP itself is concerned, the document says, the organization "will raise contributions from the private sector, foundations and non-environmental funding windows…Funds will also be drawn from humanitarian, crisis and peacebuilding instruments, where appropriate."
—Perhaps the most important function both documents see for the newly enhanced UNEP is to seek influence as the world's guiding arbiter of a new measurement of human development. "We believe the environmental argument should be recast in terms of its importance for and potential contribution to prosperity, stability and equity," the Swiss paper argues.
Or, more discreetly, as the strategy document puts it: "Integrated environmental assessments that highlight the state of the environment and trends will be used to inform decision-makers and ensure UNEP plays its lead environmental role in the United Nations system and strengthens its capacity to respond better to the global, regional and national needs of Governments."
According to Halle, however, in an e-mail exchange with Fox News, there are signs that the hugely ambitious role he and his fellow-thinkers sketched for UNEP as religion's main competitor are "beginning to happen." Halle pointed to UNEP's espousal this year of a so-called Green Economy Initiative, a proposal to radically redesign the global economy and transfer trillions of dollars in investment to the world's poorest developing countries, but one that is couched in terms of providing new green jobs, an end to old, unfair carbon-based energy subsidies, and greater global fairness and opportunity. Halle called the development "quite exciting."
The Green Economy Initiative, also called the Global Green New Deal, is a major counterpart to the new treaty on greenhouse gas suppression that all branches of the United Nations, and a horde of environmental organizations, are lobbying loudly to bring to agreement at the environmental summit in Copenhagen.
It is certain to remain a UNEP rallying cry long after the Copenhagen meeting is over — and while the other brainstorming ideas that went into the new four-year strategy, not to mention the strategy itself, go into effect.
George Russell is executive editor of Fox News.