Center for Governance and Sustainability

at the University of Massachusetts Boston

Enabling Action

pg. 34: The next big opportunity for progress in global environmental governance is to create this wider global cooperation system – to construct major, new pieces of enabling architecture aimed at scaling public and private action on each of these interrelated environmental challenges. This, rather than negotiating new principles and legal instruments, should be the main objective of the Rio+20 Summit which the United Nations will organize in 2012. Such a strategy holds the prospect of producing tangible achievements comparable in significance to those agreed in Rio. As such, it would provide a justification for world to attend in numbers not seen since that conference and the UN Millennium Summit in 2000 

 

Readers' Guide Comment on “The next big opportunity for progress in global environmental governance is to create this wider global cooperation system . . . rather than negotiating new principles and legal instruments”

This recommendation for the preparation of Rio+20 conference places building a new multi-stakeholder process (Step One) above both their Tool One (to “extend international norms and legal frameworks”) and their Second Building Block (to expand “multilateral legal frameworks and institutions”).  

Readers' Guide Comment on “The next big opportunity for progress in global environmental governance is to . . . construct major, new pieces of enabling architecture aimed at scaling public and private action on each of these interrelated environmental challenges.”

Scaling up micro enterprises to large industrial corporations, scaling up the production of new technology to a commercially viable volume, or scaling up a good business management idea to a global corporate management system are very challenging transitions. No less complicated is the transition from a single sector-focused multi-stakeholder system into a global multi-stakeholder system. For most MNCs, the scaling up process is carried out in a careful and deliberate manner. WEF seems not to have thought through the entire scaling up of their Davos based model to a regional or global level. 

Readers' Guide Comment on “to create this wider global cooperation system – to construct major, new pieces of enabling architecture aimed as scaling public and private action”

The Rio+20 conference is seen as a potential launching pad for the new architecture of public-private action. As an experiment in new forms of global governance, the WEF recommendations are short on details and substance. Three major public-private outcomes from the original Rio conference in 1992 were:
(a) the exclusion from Agenda 21 of a series of inter-governmental aspirational goals for MNCs on environment;
(b) the generation of voluntary corporate codes of conduct;
(c) the establishment of the Business Council on Sustainable Development (BCSD).

The innovative feature of the BCSD was that it was, unlike the International Chamber of Commerce or other international trade associations, a meeting of level of Chief Executive Officers and it was focused on sustainable development for the corporate world.

GRI makes no recommendations on the future development of any of these outcomes. It also does not make any recommendations for UN system or nation-states to develop authoritative ethical or normative standards for MNCs.

The major public-private outcomes from Rio+10 (Johannesburg) were the Type 2 public-private commitments. These have not generated any serious on-going environmental investments. They functioned more as public relations undertakings than real, meaningful public-private sustainable development enterprises.

The Commission on Sustainable Development attempted to study the effectiveness of Type 2 public-private partnerships. However, the multi-stakeholder group assigned to this study was stymied by the business representatives who objected to every proposed evaluation criteria. This experience provides two challenges to GRI:

(1) Serious benchmarking work (advocated in Step 5) can be blocked by one party in a multi-stakeholder structure;
(2) The lack of any detailed evidence that type 2 public-private partnerships can deliver the goods. This lack of hard evidences significantly weakens WEF’s assertion that engaging non-state actors increases the effectiveness of the existing system.

Related Ideas: Three Special Mechanisms; United Nations in a private, non-state world; a fix for the UN
 

The Readers' Guide welcomes comments with alternative examples or counter examples, supplemental assessments of the extracted GRI text or commentary – critical or otherwise – of the above interpretation of GRI’s perspective.

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