UNEP Restructured for Universal Membership
On December 21st, 2012, the United Nations General Assembly announced significant structural changes for the United Nations Environment Programme. The first change is that UNEP’s governing body will now have universal membership, which means that any of the 193 UN member states can hold seats in UNEP’s next Governing Council. Additionally, UNEP will now receive a larger regular budget from the UN, and the General Assembly is urging states to increase their voluntary funds. These structural changes are the first of their kind in UNEP’s 40 year history and are largely due to the commitments made at Rio+20 this past June.
The outcome document from Rio+20, entitled “The Future We Want,” calls for a strengthened UNEP to better deal with the fragmented and insufficient global response to environmental issues. It appears, then, that at least part of “The Future We Want,” is to be realized. The General Assembly is calling on UNEP to use its new authority and funding to better engage with developing countries, businesses, NGOs, and the like in order to tackle environmental challenges. Indeed, many of these challenges are very difficult, and according to UNEP’s recent Global Environmental Outlook publication: GEO5, the international community has made significant forward progress on only four of ninety agreed-upon environmental goals.
In the coming months, there should be a lot of discussion about UNEP’s new structure and how that structure will affect its role as an international environmental actor. With universal participation, UNEP should have greater authority as the international voice of the environment. Whether this will translate into more effective policy action and international consensus building is to be seen.