According to the UNEP ranked list of “21 Issues for the 21st Century”, the world is in urgent need of a new global environmental governance system, if current challenges of global sustainability are to be met. Experts have further called for integrating sustainability concerns across the UN System, through the creation of a Sustainable Development Council and an upgrading of the UNEP to a fully-fledged UN agency.
The report was compiled by the UNEP Foresight Panel, consisting of 22 distinguished members of the scientific community from 16 developing and developed countries. According to the experts, the most pressing concern was the current system of environmental governance, generally believed as being ill-equipped and not representative enough to face current challenges of global sustainability. The second most pressing issue are attempts to move towards a Green Economy, the authors believe. In order to move towards such an economy, the education system would have to be adapted accordingly, in order to provide enough skilled people, they warn. Food Safety and Security was labelled as the 3rd most important challenge, with 9 billion people continuing to be at urgent risk of malnutrition and hunger deaths. The other top 10 issues include the lack of linkages between science and policy, changing human behaviour towards the environment, as well as new environmental technologies and their risks.
These panel findings precede the UNEP authoritative state of the environment report — Global Environment Outlook (GEO-5) to be launched just ahead of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), to take place in June. As a prelude to the report, the GEO-5 Summary was published, setting out concrete recommendations for policy makers as how to tackle current environmental challenges. The summary for policy makers calls for a focus on underlying drivers of environmental change, including the negative aspects of population growth. Rather than only addressing environmental pressures and symptoms, experts further called upon policy actors to use timely and accurate data to inform decision-making and to meet internationally agreed goals. The authors also urge the international community to provide developing countries with more financial means, to meet current challenges. “More substantial financial resources could be made available through novel financial mechanisms, such as global emissions markets or air transportation levies for sustainability purposes”, they say.
With regards to the institutional set-up for such changes to be realised, experts have suggested the creation of a Sustainable Development Council, in order to better integrate sustainability concerns across the UN system. A leading role should be given to the 20 largest economies (G20) that would render such a system more effective, they believe. Experts have also called for an upgrade of the UNEP to a fully-fledged international organization, as a means to gain greater authority and more secure funding. In order to ensure greater accountability, civil society organisations should get stronger consultative rights for representatives, it is said.