Rio+20 discusses the creation of an “environmental WTO”

The idea to create an United Nations environmental agency following the model of the World Trade Organization (WTO) or the International Labor Organization (ILO) is growing. The proposal to create the World Environment Organization (WEA) came from European Union and it is being discussed by France and Germany and can be one of the major achievements of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, in June, in Rio de Janeiro.

More than one hundred countries support the strengthening of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The UNEP would be the natural embryo for the new environment agency. Various countries suggest the creation of the WEA or a similar agency. The emergence of the agency could be a strong decoy to attract large number of leaders to the Rio +20 and it could ensure the success of the event.

However, the establishment of the World Environment Organization (WEO) has strong opponents. The United States does not want to even hear about it. Historically, the USA does not accept agreements or international organizations that can interfere in its own domestic decisions. Moreover, the American resistance is a great obstacle for the idea. Ironically, but for other reasons, the USA is aligned in this position with Venezuela, Cuba e Bolivia. The Latin countries fear that such an agency will serve to mask protectionist trade actions of rich countries.

Brazil sees the idea with caveats, but is not completely against it. In the point of view of the government the proposal only strengthens the “environment pillar” of sustainable development. Brazilian officials have been remembering in recent days that the Rio+20 is a conference of sustainable development and has three strands – environmental, economical and social. Moreover, they repeat that the main theme is “the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication”. It is “a European obsession” to favor only the environment, says a source of the Brazilian government on turning UNEP into a “environmental WTO”

“Unless we strengthen the environment, there will be no worldwide economic and social development” refutes a representative of a European government.

UNEP was created 40 years ago, and is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, with 1,130 employers. Their reports about environment are reference in the world. At UNEP, the valuation of environmental assets is no longer an abstraction. The UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, says, for example, that forest in Kenya provides – water for dozen watersheds, moisture for the tea industry and carbon stocks – which represents an annual amount of $ 1.5 billion a year to the economy.

However, its political power is restrict. The agency has less than 60 Member-States and is financed by voluntary contributions. It annual budget, less than US$ 100 millions, is funded mainly by Japan, United Kingdom, Nordic countries and other Europeans. But, when environment ministers meet and decide, for example, to reduce the production of chemical in 10% as a way to make the world cleaner, the decision has to go to the UN General Assembly and can be vetoed. “Then, it goes to the trash”, says an UN employee. “But, if health ministers meet at the WHO and take a decision, it turns into international law”

The institutional reform supported by Brazil is to establish universal participation at UNEP and to turn mandatory a financial contribution from all countries. Brazil wants also other changes in another UN sector. The country wants to make the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), an agency on top of the chart of the UN, but that never took off, incorporate environment issues to become a Council for Sustainable Development.

However, the Brazilian negotiators could accept the environment agency, depending on its profile, says a source. “And if the part, at the United Nations, of the sustainable development, was solid”. This means, in the Brazilian point of view, that the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO) should participate in this institutional arrangement. Sustainable development has to be a paradigm of all UN bodies, especially those related with the economy”, says a negotiator.

Translated by UNIC Rio de Janeiro

Original article published at

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