Institutional Models

Practically all visions for global environmental governance reform require the use of innovative institutional structures, whether they take the form of a new global environment organization or a strengthened set of governance relationships among existing organizations. No existing institution or institutional arrangement possesses the set of elements required to carry out the functions of global environmental governance. However, each of the following institutions embodies one or more characteristics that will be critical to any strengthened global environmental regime. These functions include a participatory structure enabling the involvement of both public and private entities, trans-national coordination capacities, and dispute resolution mechanisms.

World Commission on Dams

The World Commission on Dams (WCO) resulted from a 1997 dialogue in Gland, Switzerland between representatives of private sector groups and governmental delegates who convened to review the effectiveness of large dams. An institution was established that created a framework for assessing options and decision-making processes for water resources, energy services and development. Internationally acceptable criteria and guidelines were elaborated for planning, designing, construction, operation, monitoring, and decommissioning of dams networks bringing together governments, international organizations, the private sector, and civil society in public policy networks.

The innovative management, participatory and decision making structure, centered on these public policy networks, is a relevant institutional model for global governance initiatives. As Wolfgang H. Reinicke and Francis Deng observe in Critical Choices, The United Nations, Networks, and the Future of Global Governance, “The case of the WCD demonstrates how an almost archetypical trisectoral policy network operating at the global level can contribute to building consensual knowledge and overcoming stalemate in a policy arena ridden with conflict.”

World Trade Organization

The WTO is the global organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. A notable feature of this institution is its dispute resolution mechanism. The Dispute Settlement Panel, a body that forms part of the General Council, mediates arguments over trade rules (including conflicts between free trade and laws designed to protect the environment). Renato Ruggiero, former WTO director general, calls the dispute settlement procedure the WTO’s most individual contribution to the stability of the global economy.

International Labour Organization

The ILO establishes international labor standards in the form of Conventions and Recommendations relating to the right to organize, equality of opportunity and treatment, and other basic worker rights. It is unique among world organizations in its tripartite governance structure, where employers, governments, and worker constituents have an equal voice in shaping its policies and programs.

For a summary overview of the ILO, click here.

World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations whose objective includes “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.” The WHO was founded in 1948 as a specialized agency of the Unites Nations system with a mandate of “directing and coordinating international health work.” This entails a significant amount of independence from the United Nations, despite being part of the UN family. Member States elect the Director General of the organization on the recommendation of its Executive Board. The WHO has its own budget and sets its own program priorities.

For more information on how the WHO serves as an institutional model for international governance, see the following analysis: The World Health Organization: some governance challenges.

North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation

The North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) is a relatively new regional organization established by Canada, Mexico and the United States within the context of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In many ways it represents a new generation of international environmental institutions. It is experimental from an institutional and policy point of view because it exists not only to promote environmental cooperation, but also to address trade and environment issues and to promote public participation in environmental decision-making.

For more information on how the CEC serves as an institutional model for international environmental governance, observe the following analysis: The North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation A Model for International Environmental Governance.

United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) is the single UN organization responsible for global environmental governance. The organization, located in Nairobi Kenya, has been the subject of much recent debate and discussion as the world pushes toward a stronger central role for the UN environment agency. Some support a reorganization of the organizational structure and function of UNEP itself, with a s stronger attention to its mandated functions. Critiques argue for a higher level organization at the UN that would have similar powers to other specialized agencies, such as the WHO. Such an organization has been suggested by various scholars in the field, as a World Environment Organization (WEO), United Nations Environment Organization (UNEO), or Global Environmental Mechanism (GEM).

For further information on UNEP, its institutional authority and organization, and arguments on UN reform refer to the following analysis: An Overview of Proposals on Reform of the United Nations in the Economic and Social Areas, Prepared by DESA/OECS.

Also of interest may be the UNEP International Environmental Governance website at: