Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 22:16 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 22:16 | SYDNEY

New Voices: Global environmental governance

24 July 2008 12:16

Guest Blogger: Susan Park (pictured), a Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Sydney and a panellists at New Voices writes in with this contribution to the discussion kicked off yesterday.  

How will global environmental issues be addressed in the future? Steven Bernstein calls the current structure of global governance a 'compromise of liberal environmentalism' where environmental issues have been inadequately addressed within pre-existing economic structures. This comprises three components. First, state sovereignty. States determine if, when and how we address environmental problems through signing and ratifying international agreements and creating, monitoring and enforcing national policies. Climate change negotiations within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bali and preparations for Copenhagen are an obvious case in point.

Second, the global political economy shapes states’ responses. Over the last three decades we have shifted from the environmental versus development, to arguing that we can have a 'win-win' situation. Emissions Trading Schemes are the most ambitious example of this. There are efficiency gains from endorsing market based models for tackling environmental problems along with the potential to reduce negative externalities such as greenhouse gas emissions. Yet economic rules within the World Trade Organisation (WTO) can also undermine multilateral environmental agreements that clash with WTO rules, where for example environmental regulations may be considered technical barriers to trade. The third component of the liberal compromise is that of environmental managerialism which assumes that we can satisfactorily address these issues with enough foresight and technical knowledge.

Yet this compromise has provided a policy space for corporations and environmental groups to push for private environmental standards. In 2002 at the World Summit for Sustainable Development states’ recognised the importance of partnerships for sustainable development between states, the private sector and advocacy groups. Private and public-private standards are now proliferating. In the production of sustainable products, the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling (ISEAL) Alliance includes standard-setters for sustainable forest products, marine stewardship, and sustainable cocoa and coffee. In terms of production processes the public-private International Organisation for Standardisation creates the 14000 series of environmental management standards for corporations that have since been included within the WTO.

Global industry sector standards are also emerging through forums such as the World Commission on Dams and the Extractive Industries Review. These standards are emerging in ways that are beyond states’ interests or capacity to achieve alone. Where some of these standards differ from voluntary corporate codes of conduct, such as the United Nations global compact, is that they are undertaken with public, private and voluntary sector agreement on concrete standards which potentially enhances their effectiveness and legitimacy. As world environmental indicators across the board continue to deteriorate public-private partnerships may be one way to provide effective standards for the future. As these hybrid standards evolve it is imperative that we go beyond the liberal compromise to truly sustainable liberal environmentalism.