October 7, 2009

A Global Environmental Organization?

As proposed by Edward Gresser in the latest issue of Democracy:
Rather than require each country to be the arbiter of all the others’ compliance by default, the solution must be to create an institution to do the job. The goal should be to ensure that the Copenhagen negotiations generate not only an effective and fair emissions-reduction agreement, but also an institutional structure that can make sure it is implemented—and in doing so bring environmental policy into line with security, trade, labor, and finance, as a field in which institutions and rules ease policymaking and improve its enforcement. In other words, we need a global institution modeled on the sort of organizations that have served the world for the last 65 years: The UN, the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO.
It's an excellent idea, especially given the myriad enforcement problems associated with any future climate change treaty, including the ones I mentioned yesterday. Gresser is wise, however, not to assume that a GEO will solve every international environmental problem, but it could ease the process by which countries deal with them.

One other virtue of a GEO, separate from the other major international institutions, is that it could help win some legitimacy in the eyes of developing countries for vigorously reducing carbon emissions on their part. Consider a second-best alternative to a GEO, namely adding environmental policy to the portfolio of existing successful institutions -- the WTO would handle climate-related trade policy, the World Bank would help with financing clean energy technology and adaptation programs (moreso than it already does, at least), etc. Developing countries, however, tend to have a strong distrust of those bodies, which they consider to be disposed against their interests; would they accept WTO rulings upholding carbon tariffs, say? This is already playing out in the negotiations in Bangkok over a new climate fund for developing countries: The US had wanted, among other things, for the fund to be administered by the World Bank, which was flatly opposed by the developing country bloc. The US seems to be softening its position on this, however, but the debate shows how important it is for developing countries to feel that international institutions are on their side.

Of course, Gresser's GEO applies not only to climate change, but to all the existing environmental treaties, where enforcement has been, for the most part, abysmal. Even apart from climate change, I think it would be worthwhile to get some proper enforcement mechanisms in place for those treaties.

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