Role Played By International Organizations Politics Essay

23 Mar 2015

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International organizations provide a forum for international co-operation in environmental issues as they play two important roles environmental policy making and the development of international environmental law. Every organization is endowed with environmental responsibilities as those involved in international environmental law are established at the regional global, regional and sub-regional and bilateral levels. Almost all international organizations today have some competence or responsibility for the development, application or the enforcement of international environment obligations including those related to standard setting. The decentralized nature of international organizations in the international environment field makes it difficult to assess their roles by reference to any functional, sectorial or geographical criteria. They can be divided into three categories global organs associated with the United Nations and its specialized agencies, regional organizations outside the United Nations system and organizations established by environmental and other treaties. Within these categories there are of course overlaps since many organizations established in the categories were created by acts of the United Nations or its specialized agencies.

History of International Organizations

Prior to 1945 there were no international organizations dealing with environmental affairs but the period after World War II saw the emergence of a number of international organizations grow. They were established at global, regional and sub-regional levels to deal specifically with environmental issues or to adapt to the existing organizations by having competence in the area of environmental issues. The Stockholm Conference recognized that the global and regional environmental problems required extensive co-operation among nations and action by international organizations in pursuit of common interest for the protection of the environment. [1] Also states were called upon to ensure that international organizations play a coordinated, efficient and dynamic role for the protection and improvement of the environment. [2] 

Functions and Roles of International Organizations

They perform a number of different functions and roles depending on their constituent documents in relation to environmental affairs ranging from judicial, administrative to legislative roles. The functions they perform relate mostly to five areas which will be discussed shortly.

Forum for co-operation and co-ordination among states and non state actors on environmental management matters. As they act as a forum where informal and formal ideas are shared which builds on international consensus for regional and global action to be taken.

Provides information international organizations receive and disseminate information and facilitate for the exchange of information through formal or informal consultations between states.

Contribute to the development of legal obligations such as soft law by acting as a catalyst informally outside the organization or formally within the organization where the organization adopts acts or decisions which create legal binding obligations.

Ensures implementation and compliance with obligations by receiving information from parties on an informal basis or receiving regular reports or periodic communications from parties to international environmental treaties as a means of reviewing progress in implementation.

Act as an independent forum or mechanism for the settlement of disputes between states. Through the work of bodies with general competence to an environmental agreement or by reference of an issue to a body specifically created to assist with dispute settlement such as the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

Global Organizations

General Assembly

The United Nations specialized agencies and its subsidiary organs are regarded as the focal points for international law in the fields of environment law. [3] Through, the practice of the principal organs such as the General Assembly which has interpretated and applied broad principles such as the promotion of sustainable development and the protection of the environment. The General Assembly is regarded as the principal decision making organ and has the power to discuss any question or matters within the scope of the United Nations Charter or make recommendations to member states or the Security Council. [4] Furthermore, promote international co-operation in political social, cultural, educational, health fields plus the codification and development of international law. [5] There is no specific mention of the General Assembly having competence in environmental affairs but under Agenda 21 it was recognized as the principal policy making and appraisal organ having a regular review function with respect to Agenda 21. The major role played by the General assembly has been the creation of bodies that have been instrumental in environmental law such as the UNEP which is the main voice of the United Nations by bringing emerging issues before the international community so as to reach global and regional consensus on such matters. The CSD and the UNDP which seek to help developing countries and those in transition achieve sustainable development in line with environmental principles and standards.

United Nations Environment Programme

The United Nations Environment Programme is the United Nations designated body for addressing issues at the global and regional level. Its mandate is to co-ordinate the development of environmental policy consensus by keeping the global environment review by bringing emerging issues to the attention of governments and the international community so as to pursue action. This is the United Nations body exclusively focusing on international environmental matters. The constituent instrument which the programme adheres to commits it to the provision of policy guidance and co-ordination of environmental programmes within the United Nations among its roles. [6] The creation of the programme is testimony of the General Assembly's powers granted to it under the Charter so as to ensure environmental matters are dealt with collectively since they affect everyone.

Provision of information

UNEP has been promoting access to information on environmental law in order to increase the level of world-wide knowledge and to provide actors directly involved in the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental law, with the information they need. According to the Stockholm declaration [7] provision of such information is education on environmental matters, for the younger generation as well as adults, in order to broaden the basis for an enlightened opinion and responsible conduct by individuals, enterprises and communities in protecting and improving the environment. The basic premise being enhancing the knowledge of environmental law issues by carrying out environmental law studies through the development of websites, and producing environmental law publications to build capacity in environmental law globally. For instance, on Studies in environmental law matters UNEP devotes great attention to the strengthening and promotion of environmental law by undertaking legal studies on different areas identified in the Montevideo Programme III and in subsequent Governing Council decisions. Secondly, establishing a website which provides information on all its environmental activities such as UNEP's environmental law programme is intended to be an instrument for conveying not only information about UNEP's activities, but also to work as a resource tool for all those interested in environmental law world-wide. UNEP ensures that information on environmental matters is known fully especially to the least developed and developing countries sop that they use the environment sustainably with the information published.

Provision of technical assistance to developing countries and in transition

Technical assistance is very vital as few countries are fully capable to deal with environmental matters as they are today. This was recognized in the UNCED Agenda 21 and the WSSD plan of implementation which recognized the short comings in the environmental legislation in effecting the integration of environment and development policies and practices especially in the developing countries. UNEP's role is to strengthen national and institutional bodies so as to be able to translate sustainable development policies and strategies into action with respect to developing countries and those in transition.

In line with Agenda 21 which underscores the importance of implementing international obligations through enactment of the laws at regional, national or municipal level. UNEP in line with Agenda 21 has focused on technical assistance with respect to building the capacity of legal stake holders such as decision makers, legal professionals and academics. The provision of Technical Assistance is guided by the Montevideo Programme II in which the Governing Council's decision 17/25 paragraph 2 stated its objective provision of technical assistance to least developing countries and countries with economies in transition to develop and implement environmental law. Which ensures the UNEP plays its role in assisting governments strengthen their legal and institutional frameworks through training the capacity of decision makers and legal stakeholders in environmental matters so that they strengthen, implement and develop environment law.

The role of UNEP is to ensure that the least developed and developing countries in terms of the Rio [8] declaration enact effective environmental legislation so that it is in line with the environmental and development standards. Meaning the laws enacted have to reflect in their domestic laws international environmental law and in line with the developments in environmental law.

United Nations Development Programme

The United Nations established the United Nations Development Programme in 1965 [9] as the principal channel for multilateral technical and investment assistance to developing countries apart from integrating the millennium development goals with environmental matters. It is active in all economic and social factors which are highly valuable under environmental law as they are interlinked with environmental sustainable development as stated in the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development [10] "economic development, social development and environmental protection are interdependent and mutually reinforcing with respect to sustainable development which is the framework to achieve a higher quality of life for all people." Therefore, the work of the United Nations Development Programme is linked directly to poverty reduction by removing the social and economic barriers by empowering the poor so that they will be able to practice sustainable use of the environment in line with its mandate. As there can be no achievement of sustainable development without clear focus on the reduction of poverty as favourable conditions must be present both socially and economically to ensure development and sustainable use of the environment. This is in line with the Rio Declaration [11] which clearly envisions eradication of poverty so as a requirement for the sustainable use of the environment by decreasing the disparities of living standards in line with the people in the world.

The UNDP's role is to help developing countries strengthen their capacities to deal with environmental challenges at global, national and community level seeking and sharing the best practices by providing policy advice, management of important programmes and institutions such as the Global Environment Facility. This introduced the Small Grants Programme which aims at strengthening local capacity in the community by providing enabling conditions. As for instance, the Small Grants Programme works with communities around the world to combat the most critical environmental problems and support communities in their efforts to achieve more sustainable livelihoods. SGP supports projects of non-governmental and community-based organizations in developing countries to demonstrate that community action can meet both human needs and environmental sustainability. [12] 

UNDP's role in developing countries is to ensure effective participation of women in environmental affairs. As according to the Rio Declaration [13] women have a vital role in environmental management and development. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development. Since local actors, especially women, are excluded from meaningful participation in environment and energy policy-making processes. Exclusion has served to weaken the impact, cost-effectiveness, and sustainability of initiatives, funding mechanisms, and programmes implemented by international development agencies and national governments. [14] This is attributable to the Small Grants Programme which enhances the capacity of local actors, especially women, to access environmental finance so as to ensure they are better equipped to act responsibly.

Commission on Sustainable Development

The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was established by the UN General Assembly and ECOSOC in 1992 to ensure effective follow-up of United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Earth Summit. The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation recognized the CSD as a high level forum on sustainable development and it has specific roles which are. Review progress at the international, regional and national levels in the implementation of recommendations and commitments contained in the (UNCED) namely: Agenda 21; and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. [15] Follow up the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and achieve sustainable development. [16] Promote dialogue and build partnerships for sustainable development with governments, the international community and the major groups identified in Agenda 21.

The Earth Summit recognized capacity-building as the means of implementation for Agenda 21 with particular focus on national mechanisms and international co-operation. The Division for Sustainable Development provides targeted advisory services at the request of individual governments. These services support specific policy initiatives and the requisite institutional development and capacity-building.

Technical support is specifically designed to accelerate the formulation of policies for sustainable development and provide substantive support for their implementation at national and international levels in line with the Johannesburg Plan of implementation. [17] The Division's technical expertise enables it to support developing countries and countries with economies in transition in their realization of sustainable development. The role of the CSD is to better equip developing countries to develop in line within the framework of environmental law principles as each country has its specific needs especially developing countries.

United Nations Institute for Training and Research

Is an autonomous body within the United Nations with the mandate to enhance the effectiveness of the United Nations through training and research. The role of UNITAR is to strengthen the capacity of Member States, Organizations and individuals to address environmental challenges and reach sustainable goals through innovative training approaches and methods. [18] In line with the Rio declaration which promotes access to information, public participation, and access to justice in environmental matters and the Aarhus convention which is a major initiative to strengthen environmental democracy it acknowledges that achieving sustainable development requires the involvement of all stakeholders.

The role played by UNITAR is to ensure full participation of all the stakeholders under environmental law through proper training, being given a better understanding of how environmental law operates which in effect is capacity building of both developed and developing countries with respect to environmental matters. For instance, the Environment Unit deals with four core areas chemical management, climate change, biodiversity and environmental governance and law. All these areas are crucial to environmental law and the participation of all stakeholders ensures that there will be meaningful progress in the development of Rio Declaration Principle 10, the Aarhus Convention with respect to environmental law. Especially for governments, international organizations, developing countries and those countries in transition it will help them at a national level to adhere to multilateral agreements by addressing the gaps and weaknesses they have by involving the relevant stake holders at all levels necessary.

Further, the role played by UNITAR is to be a haven of knowledge and expertise in my view with respect to international law and environmental law issues. This can be amicably seen in the international law programme it has which targets the relevant stakeholders in environmental law such as governments, international organizations, private lawyers, diplomats and government lawyers to ensure that they have full access to the information they need and participate fully by upholding the global respect for international principles.

Security Council

Under the Charter of the United Nations it has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. [19] Its mandate does not spell out the protection of the environment but due to its binding legal resolutions [20] it plays a significant role under international environmental law by promoting its development. The Security Council's first encounter with environmental matters was in 1991 when it adopted a resolution holding Iraq liable for damage to the environment resulting from the invasion of Kuwait. [21] It would be wrong to say that the Security Council has not played a role in environmental affairs as peace is very vital to ensure that there is development and sustainable use of the environment. As outlined in the Rio declaration [22] peace, development and environment protection are interdependent and indivisible. In essence the role played by the Security council is to ensure that as peace prevails so does the environment develops due to the preservation of peace by the Security Council. Protection of the environment has always been the duty of the Council as under the Rio declaration [23] warfare is inherently destructive for sustainable development as states should respect international law which protects the environment in times of armed conflict. Therefore, the Security Council has played a role in the promotion of environmental law by advocating for peaceful settlement of disputes and banning of wars so that there can be development of the environment as stipulated under international environmental principles.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Based in Rome established in 1945 and has a specific mandate to deal with environmental issues namely to promote the conservation of natural resources and the adoption of improved methods of agricultural production. [24] FAO leads international efforts to defeat hunger the first MDG, reducing global hunger and poverty by half by the year 2015. Helping both developed and developing countries, by acting as a neutral forum where all nations meet as equals to negotiate agreements and debate policy. [25] FAO's role is to support global environmental targets as Priorities for reducing hunger cannot be separated from those for sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems. There is a close link between hunger, poverty and environmental degradation which underscore the need for multidimensional approaches to their reduction. FAO's Strategic Framework (2000-2015) specifically highlights sustainable production and natural resource conservation. FAO's role is to help countries and regions develop coherent policies and programmes for efficient and socially desirable sustainable management of resources. The strategy also aims for the conservation, improvement and sustainable utilization of natural resources for food and agriculture, with special emphasis on fragile ecosystems and environments at greatest risk as in developing countries which are mostly affected. FAO works in broad partnership with governments, national, international and non-governmental institutions and civil society to broaden the base of understanding and increases the chances for success in addressing existing and future sustainable development and environmental priorities.

Provision of Skilled personnel

In line with its objective of reducing hunger which has the capability of causing social and economic problems if not checked fully. The organization has skilled expertise in the field who will serve to ensure that a boost in food production and sustainable methods of doing so are exchanged. FAO's experts are in different fields which help collectively to achieve the objectives within the spirit of co-operation as outlined in international instruments. The experts include Agriculture, Economic and Social Development, Fisheries, Forestry, Natural Resources Management and Environment. And since it has global and regional offices allows it to address the environment problems accordingly when they meet to ensure amicable solutions are given at high level forums in order to solve the problems plaguing the countries.

Provision of knowledge

FAO serves as a knowledge network through the use of experts foresters, fisheries and livestock specialists, nutritionists, social scientists, economists, statisticians and other professionals - to collect, analyse and disseminate data that aids development. In providing knowledge to countries FAO recognizes that environmental issues cannot be handled without effective information within the hands of relevant stakeholders to ensure they have an understanding of what they are dealing with. Especially Online databases, thematic knowledge networks and new practices as websites disseminate information to help policy-makers and individuals make better informed decisions, strengthen links and facilitate sharing and exchange of information. [26] 

United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

Established in 1945 its role is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through education, science and culture while conserving and protecting historic and scientific monuments. [27] Its role has been in line with the Earth Summit which advocated for sustainable development which meets the needs of present generations without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their own. In essence sustainable development cannot be dealt with without educating the relevant actors in environmental law coupled with scientific knowledge. Therefore UNESCO's role is to educate and ensure knowledgeable citizens, informed political and economic decision makers are able to solve emerging environmental issues. For instance, UNESCO has a Climate Change Education for Sustainable Development Programme as education is an essential element of the global response to climate change. In line with the Stockholm declaration principle 19 education helps young people understand and address the impact of global warming, encourages changes in their attitudes and behavior and helps them adapt to climate change-related trends. UNESCO aims to make climate change education a central part of the international response to climate change. By strengthening the capacity of its Member States to provide quality climate change education; encouraging innovative teaching approaches to integrate climate change education  in school and by raising awareness about climate change as well as enhancing non-formal education programmes through media, networking and partnerships. [28] 

Furthermore, UNESCO promotes environmental law through its intergovernmental oceanic commission through capacity development. By developing leadership capacity such as fund-raising, team building, and decision-making skills for directors of marine and coastal sciences institutes to strengthen scientific, legal and institutional structures. [29] Special attention is given to developing, tropical and small island states where livelihoods depend heavily on marine resources. The Stockholm declaration in principle 20 clearly outlines such assistance to developing countries "Scientific research and development in the context of environmental problems both national and multinational must be promoted in all countries especially developing countries…. Environmental techonologies should be made available to developing countries which would encourage their wide dissemination." The objective of the programme is to empower developing countries to sustainably use their coastal and marine resources by through self driven capacity development. Due to the degradation and loss of life-sustaining ocean resources is accelerating, one of the greatest challenges is to develop capacity rapidly enough to protect and preserve these resources. The capacity-building approach aims to reduce the continuous dependence on aid by empowering countries to address their own problems through science-based strategies. [30] 

International Maritime Organization (IMO)

The major role of the International Maritime Organization is to provide machinery for cooperation among Governments in the field of governmental regulation and practices relating to technical matters of all kinds affecting shipping engaged in international trade, to encourage and facilitate the general adoption of the highest practicable standards in matters concerning maritime safety, efficiency of navigation and prevention and control of marine pollution from ships. [31] Therefore the major role of the maritime organization is to ensure the safety of ships at sea so that they do not discharge pollution into the sea oil or any other substance plus there is no unnecessary dumping of wastes which causes damage to the marine environment. In having such high safety standards on ships which converge the ocean in essence they are fighting against pollution from such ships and are advocating for liability of pollution in the ocean as a way to ensure high standards of safety and security procedures for ships. For instance as a result of the Torrey canyon disaster in 1967 a legal committee was established which became a permanent subsidiary organization. The swiftness of the action is admirable and only serves to show that the organization is concerned with the safety and security of ships as they travel over the ocean ensuring they do not cause marine pollution. In promoting the safety and security of ships as they traverse the ocean the IMO as mandated by its convention provides an Integrated Technical Co-operation Programme which ensures there are safe, secure and effective shipping services further protecting their waters and coasts from the environmental degradation caused by ships and other maritime associated activities.

International Labour Organization (ILO)

The role of the International Labour Organization is to promote its programme decent work for all as work is central to the well being of people. By providing work one gets income paving the way for social and economic advancement through strengthening of families and communities. [32] Therefore the major purpose of the ILO is to eradicate underdevelopment as stated in the Stockholm declaration which has caused many developing countries to lag behind. By securing decent work for all creates jobs as people can live sustainable livelihoods and ease pressure on the environment. The basic thrust of the programme in environmental affairs is to forge international consensus among governments, employers, workers and civil society that productive employment and decent work are key elements to achieving a fair globalization, reducing poverty and achieving equitable, inclusive, and sustainable development. [33] 

In addition the International Labour Organization plays another vital role under international environmental law by ensuring workers work under a safe and healthy environment and are not subject to hazardous materials or chemicals when doing their job. The workplaces in different parts of the world contain health and occupational safety hazards which affect the employees and the environment. For instance, ILO Convention No 170 of 1990( concerning the safety in the use of chemicals at work) was passed to protect the health of workers, general public and the environment from the harmful effects that could result from the use of chemicals in the work place. Occupational safety is a one of the ways the ILO has helped to promote environmental law as safe work places can be said to contribute to achieving sustainable development by ensuring there is a controlled level on pollution and hazards from industrial processes. The goal of having such issues tackled on the international floor is to ensure that states design, implement effective and protective policies and programmes in their legislation.

World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

Its role is the United Nations system's authoritative voice on the state of the earth's atmosphere in relation to the oceans, climate it produces and the distribution of water resources. [34] The World Meteorological Organization provides the framework for international cooperation by the establishment of networks for making meteorological, climatological, hydrological and geophysical observations, technology transfer, training and research. [35] Further, it plays a leading role in international efforts to monitor and protect the environment in collaboration with other United Nations agencies and the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services, These activities contribute towards ensuring the sustainable development and well-being of nations. One of the ways that WMO contributes to sustainable development is through international environmental governance as enshrined in various United Nations and other international conventions. [36] The data collected from WMO's networks of ground and space based systems coupled with the application of improved scientific knowledge and technology provide the information and assessments necessary for the formulation of relevant policy decisions on which international environmental governance may build. [37] 

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

The role of the IAEA in environmental affairs is to promote peace and preservation of the environment so that the environment can be spared the destructive effect of nuclear weapons. The IAEA is the world´s nuclear inspectorate where inspectors work to verify that safeguarded nuclear material and activities are not used for military purposes. In effect the IAEA clearly performs its functions by advocating for peaceful uses of the atomic energy in line with its constituent document (article 1).The destructiveness of such nuclear weapons is confirmed by the Stockholm declaration "Man and his environment must be spared the effects of nuclear weapons and all other means of mass destruction." [38] The Non Proliferation Treaty aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to foster the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of disarmament. Peace and development are indivisible in achieving sustainable use of the environment with friendly non lethal nuclear energy which is environment friendly. The basic role of the IAEA is to ensure states co-operate within the framework of the Proliferation Treaty as failure to do so results in action being taken by the Security Council. In essence the IAEA in promoting peaceful uses of the nuclear energy is striving to help developing countries achieve the MDG's by assessing and plan their energy needs, including nuclear generation of electricity. [39] Major emphasis is placed on the role of innovative and advanced technologies vital to meeting the world's rising energy needs. As with the rising cost of energy sustainable methods need to be used to help the poor in developing countries.


There is the confirmation of the relationship among regional, national, local organizations, governmental and NGO's due to International organizations which have played an influential role in such affairs. In line with the Stockholm declaration which elaborated they play a dynamic and co-ordinated role in the protection and improvement of the environment. Each international organization that was highlighted has promoted environmental each within its own specific way in line with international binding and non binding principles of international environmental law. But governments must capacitate international organizations so that they keep on playing a leading role in international environmental affairs.



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