The United Nations Environment Program aims to dramatically increase its role in running the world according to nebulous environmental principles, according to a strategic plan that will be presented to the U.N. General Assembly this fall.
The principal objective of the plan is to “catalyze a transition” to a radical new global green economy, based on “low-carbon, low-emission, resource-efficient and equitable development”—a theme that will dominate the opening of the General Assembly in September, and culminate in yet another U.N.-sponsored summit of world leaders a year later, to endorse what the organization calls its “post-2015 development agenda.”
Among other things, the document calls for UNEP to ramp up efforts to partner with non-government organizations and corporations to help “catalyze change among [U.N.] member states” on environmental issues; install principles of “ecosystem management” and “environmental sustainability” into all levels of national, regional and local planning; and making liberal use of UNEP national support committees around the world to lobby for use of its “services and products.”
The “strategic framework,” as the document is titled, makes clear that UNEP now sees itself as the chief international coordinator of a new environmental order, with the intention to “catalyze transformational change and leverage impact” on a global scale.
Among other things, “UNEP will strengthen its leadership in key United Nations coordination bodies and lead efforts to formulate United Nations system-wide strategies on the environment,” the plan declares, in order to “maximize the potential for environmentally sound development.”
The document declares that UNEP will try to increase its influence in the real world through promotion of “government policy reform, changes in private sector management practices, and increased consumer awareness”—including, bizarrely “taking into consideration gender differences”-- as a means to “reduce the impact of economic growth on resource depletion and environmental degradation.”
“UNEP will strengthen its leadership in key United Nations coordination bodies and lead efforts to formulate United Nations system-wide strategies on the environment,” the plan declares, in order to “maximize the potential for environmentally sound development.”
The document says UNEP will try to increase its influence in the real world through promotion of “government policy reform, changes in private sector management practices, and increased consumer awareness (taking into consideration gender differences) as a means to reduce the impact of economic growth on resource depletion and environmental degradation.”
The tools it will use include “conducting scientific assessments; providing policy, planning and legislative advice … facilitating access to finance; undertaking pilot interventions and promoting the integration of these approaches through national development; fostering climate change outreach and awareness-raising; [and] knowledge sharing through climate change networks.”
Other services it hopes to provide include “national economic assessments, guidance on fiscal and trade policies, market-based and legislative instruments, and national sustainable consumption and production action plans.”
In short, a one-stop service for pushing the global green economy into being.
UNEP also intends to help and encourage countries to put new teeth in their environmental laws, and blend environmental strategies with anti-poverty programs—without, however, providing much in the way of detail about how to make the latter, in particular, happen.
In all, the plan heralds a major increase in the heft and authority of a relatively small (2014-2015 budget: about $630 million) U.N. organization that little more than three years ago was considered a major administrative and financial mess.
That reputation was hardly burnished last winter, when UNEP’s “strategic alliance” with authorities in Vladimir Putin’s Russia for the greening of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games did little or nothing to prevent a huge environmental debacle.
Nonetheless, UNEP’s plan says it will continue to use such “strategic partnerships with Member States, other stakeholders and entities within the United Nations system” to achieve results “significantly larger than what UNEP could achieve operating on its own.”
(UNEP signed one such agreement, its first-ever memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in February 2011.)
UNEP’s partnership strategy echoes a trend within the U.N. as a whole, as the global organization recognizes the reality that rich countries are hitting the limit for directly paying the tab for a still-expanding array of U.N. funds, agencies and programs that have all-too-often failed to produce advertised results.
The partnership strategy, as articulated by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, is intended to put the U.N. in “a standard-setting role that no other actor can play”—as well as tap into trillions of dollars in financial and other resources that no-one intends to place in the hands of the U.N.
The trouble is that its overall partnership goals, like those of UNEP, remain grand-sounding but vague.
In partial answer to the problem, UNEP proposes that it also play a stronger role in environmental law-making, “ in particular those addressing the goals, targets and commitments from United Nations processes”—such as the “post-2015” process that will be launched this September.
A major reason for that assertiveness is that UNEP, which began its existence as an outgrowth of the much bigger United Nations Development Program, claims a new mandate emerging from the last U.N. summit in Rio in 2012, to expand its role as “the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda.”
As one result, its previous 58-nation Governing Council has been expanded into a United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) that includes all 193 U.N. member states. The move is intended to give decisions by the new body much greater international legislative force, though any measures it decides must still be endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly.
UNEA’s first biennial session will be held in Nairobi starting on June 23, and is intended to be huge environmental cheerleading session, with “more than 1,200 participants, including environment, ministers, government delegates and representatives of major groups and stakeholders,” according to the UNEP website.
How well the global environmental agenda-setter succeeds after that will be judged when its ambitious strategy comes before the U.N. General Assembly in September.
George Russell is editor-at-large of Fox News and can be found on Twitter @GeorgeRussell