Critical analysis of the development of institutions which are related and/or are crucial for the implementation of biodiversity treaties

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2006 25 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Environmental Policy


Table of Content


Section I - Introduction
1 Introducing the Research Paper

Section II – Environmental Institutional Framework
2 Global Institutions
2.1 Development of Global Institutions
2.1.1 The United Nations Environment Programme
2.1.2 The Global Environment Facility

Section III - Biodiversity
3 Reasons to Care about Biodiversity
3.1 International Policies on Biodiversity
3.1.1 The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
3.1.2 The Convention on Biodiversity The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
3.2 Global Governance

Section IV – Summary of Findings
4 Conclusions



Environmental awareness is as great as ever before thanks to enhanced global cooperation of global actors. One of these actors are global institutions such as UNEP and the GEF which have been criticised for either not being effective, too bureaucratic or only representing Northern policies. Main focus of this research paper lies on biodiversity and its related treaties such as the Convention on Biodiversity and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Further, this paper looks into the development of Global Institutions over the last century. The paper concludes that global institutions are crucial and important for global politics despite some unresolved challenges, such as on benefit sharing from genetic resources.

1 Introducing the Research Paper

This research paper is on the topic of the development of institutions which are related and/or are crucial for the implementation of biodiversity treaties.

Section II analyses two significant institutional actors, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) that have a particular focus on environmental issues such as on biodiversity. UNEP (2002) defines biodiversity as “the variability among living organisms from all sources, including terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part of […], including the diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems”. The latter is a complex set of relationships among the living resources, habitats and residents of an area, including plants, trees, animals, fish, birds, micro-organisms, water, soil and people. According to the Biotech Dictionary (2004): “An ecosystem is the dynamic and interrelating complex of plant and animal community and their associated non-living environment. The physical and climatic features and all the living and dead organism in an area that are interrelated in the transfer of energy and material.”

The term global institution (GI) is used in different ways by theorists. In this paper the term global institutions is used interchangeably with the term intergovernmental institutions (IGOs). Willetts (2001, p. 376) defines intergovernmental organisations as “an international organization in which full legal membership is officially solely open to states and the decision-making authority leis with representatives from governments”. Global institutions provide the focus for global politics. They are grand, important and have their purposes defined in founding documents. Their affects are likely to be on a world-wide scale. Global communications infrastructure makes it easier for them to operate and their systems constrain member behaviour. In order to understand global institutions section 2.1 looks into their development over time.

Section III expands on the overall topic of biodiversity. Here, I try first to give reasons why it is important to care about biodiversity and look into international policies on biodiversity. There is a huge debate whether international institutions posses the actual capacity to deliver global collective environmental benefits to all. Section 3.1 until will therefore outline the academic debate on preserving biodiversity as well as examining some of the considered-to-be-important treaties: the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (PB). The final section (IV) summarises the paper’s findings and raises further research questions.

There are about seven main political actors involved in an environmental framework. These are intergovernmental institutions (IGOs) like the United Nations, regional institutions such as the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbeans as well as national institutions for instance the Environmental Protection Agency for the US. Moreover, there are Transnational Companies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like Oxfam, environmental advocacy organisations such as Greenpeace and hybrid international non-governmental organisations such as the International Red Cross. This paper focuses explicitly on IGOs.

According to Soroos (1999, p. 12) there are five principal IGOs: the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the World Bank (WB). As stated by Stiglitz (2002, p. 216) “The greatest challenge is not just in the institutions themselves but in mind-sets: Caring about the environment […]”. According to Waylen (2006, p. 5) the two biggest challenges faced by human kind are the conservation of our environment resources and the eradication of poverty, which seem to be interlinked. Soroos (1999, p. 28) mentions that international institutions have been very important for the creation, development and operation of international environmental regimes. According to Soroos international regimes are a “combination of international institutions, customary norms and principles, and formal treaty commitments […].” When regional or global intergovernmental organisations become the focus for policy making, then NGOs seek to influence the proceedings, so Willetts (2001, p. 374).

2 Global Institutions

Global institutions (GI) play a significant role in activities such as international environmental rule making, policy making, research, monitoring, training, project financing but also supervision (Hurrell and Kingsbury, 1992, p. 30). GIs aim on achieving governmental influence through cooperative actions. Further, they aim on reducing the costs of negotiations between states and to make international politics more stable, open and reduce conflicts. They can perform a variety of roles in the context of an international regime such as monitoring, assessing and reporting on state issues. However, implementation seems the weakest link in the chain of international environmental cooperation, so Carter (2004, p. 244).

Another function of GIs is to create an action plan with policies and guidelines as well as to try to address existing and emerging problems. In the beginning IGOs focus was not primarily on environmental issues, but over time such problems were added to their agenda. According to Willetts (2001, p. 357) there are 250 IGOs compared to 5800 international NGOs. GIs provide a key function by collecting and publishing information, receiving reports on country’s treaty implementation and facilitating independent monitoring as well as inspection, so Haas (2000, p. 114). Besides, these institutions act as a forum for reviewing state’s performances. In general, these GIs have a large membership base and can be therefore considered as democratic.

There is a huge debate on whether we actually need global institutions and what are the costs and benefits of having them. Poorly managed or bad international organisations can be harmful and good ones in excess can have adverse effects, so goes the argument of Gallarotti (1997, p. 375). The author states, that if their management is executed poorly than international organisations can be counterproductive. Swanson (1999, p. 135) argues against the assumption that it is the absence of institutions that obstructs efficient resource management at the international level; but he debates that the problem with institution building is a rather a distributional one than an administrative one that needs to be settled on. Further, Hurrell and Kingsbury (1992, p. 34) state that states among each other are increasingly reluctant to embark on the creation of new institutions in order to avoid duplication of problems. Global environmental problems require effective governance and involve multiple states. As stated by Carter (2004, p. 225) “global environmental problems require global solutions, they cannot be solved by nation states acting alone”.

2.1 Development of Global Institutions

With reference to Soroos (1999, pp. 28) the following section analyses the three distinctive post-war periods which have been defined by two landmark meetings, the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden and the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. What we can see by looking at these historical developments is that environmental problems and awareness have rocketed over the last 50 years. The establishment of global organisations was mainly in the 1950’s. These organisations were not primarily involved with environmental issues. It was rather that environmental problems became the focus of some global organisations.

Willetts (2001, p. 365) states that international regimes are limited by not covering all countries, but their control is achieved through the partial surrender of sovereignty to an intergovernmental body. There is a common perception that global institutions have failed to response to local issues. Vig (1999, p. 13) points out weaknesses of IGOs down to their lack of central environmental authority; no international legal enforcement, power of countervailing interest groups and the need to influence national governments.

The time prior 1968 was an era of cooperation among states that focused primarily on hydrology, flood control, pollution and the conservation of specific species of wildlife. However, there was very little environmental awareness, so Soroos (1999, p. 29). The UN charter did not mention the natural environment. Environmental problems were taken on by existing IGOs, but at that time there was no major environmental organisation. Nevertheless, the first steps were taken. Some of the oldest international environmental organisations are the International Commission for the Rhine and Danube Rivers founded in 1900 as well as the 1909 formed International Joint Commission by the US and Canada which concentrate on their bordering river and lake system (Vig, 1999, p. 11). In 1912 there was the creation of the International Maritime Organisation. Also there is the International Whaling Commission which was founded in 1946 in England.

UN specialised agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation or the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) were founded in 1945. The influence on environmental issues of the Bretton Woods institutions World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMD) became more important in later decades.

The Stockholm Era (1968 until 1987) was a period of great environmental public concern. The 1972 UN conference in Stockholm marked the beginning of organised international efforts to safeguard the environment while promoting economic development (Vig, 1999, p. 1). Issues that were taken up on had to do with radioactive contamination, acid deposition and the dispersion of pesticides. Some heavy oil spills such as that of 1967 in the English Channel caused worry. So did the use of chemical deforestation techniques by the US during the Vietnam War. The environment was viewed in a holistic way (Soroos, 1999, p. 30).

According to Carter (2004, p. 19) holism is concerned with how parts of nature interact with each other in an ecosystem and biosphere. The depletion of natural resources was argued to be caused through population growth and the increasing industrial development. Vig (1999, p. 6) states that developing countries argued that developed countries had taken advantage from environmental exploitation and are responsible for the overall world-wide pollution as well as resource depletion. Moreover, Buttel (2001, p. 221) debates that due to a decline of foreign aid and the bleak prospects of generating ‘green aid’ have weakened the incentive for the South to accept restrictions on resource extraction and environmental destruction. Further, the states of the South are not powerful actors in international environmental discussions and should have some signatories and consent, so Buttel.

During the Stockholm era there were some major world conferences held such as the World Population Conference in Bucharest and the World Food Conference in Rome in 1974. These conferences were also referred to as ‘global town meetings’. The UN General Assembly established UNEP whose task it is to monitor global environmental trends, convening international meetings and negotiating international agreements (Vig, 1999, p. 1). UNEP is the only UN organisation that solely focuses on environmental aspects. Soroos (1999, p.32) argues that the UN response to environmental problems was fragmented and uncoordinated. Besides, there were some major international environmental treaties aimed on managing global environmental change. According to Jacobson and Weiss (1997, p. 319) these are the 1983 ‘International Tropical Timber Agreement’ and the 1987 ‘Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer’. In preparation to the Rio meeting in 1992 the publication of the 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development ‘Our Common Future’ led to a sharp increase in environmental concern.



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Title: Critical analysis of the development of institutions which are related and/or are crucial for the implementation of biodiversity treaties