Reducing the risk of potential global environmental disaster requires a "constitutional moment" comparable in scale and importance to the reform of international governance that followed World War II, say 32 leading experts in an article in Science, published on 16 March.
Stark increases in natural disasters, food and water security problems and biodiversity loss are just part of the evidence that humanity may be crossing planetary boundaries and approaching dangerous tipping points. A more effective environmental governance system needs to be instituted soon, according to the article.
In particular, the group argues for the creation of a UN Sustainable Development Council to better integrate sustainable development concerns across the UN system, with a strong role for the twenty largest economies (G20).
The article also suggests upgrading of the UN Environment Programme to a full-fledged UN agency – a step that would give it greater authority, more secure funding, and facilitate the creation and enforcement of international regulations and standards.
In addition, the article calls for stronger consultative rights for representatives of civil society in global governance, based on mechanisms that balance differences in influence and resources among civil society representatives.
In order to improve the speed of decision-making in international negotiations, the article calls for stronger reliance on qualified majority-voting in international decision-making.
The scientists also argue for increased financial support for poorer nations, including through novel financial mechanisms such as air transportation levies.
Says Professor Frank Biermann of VU University Amsterdam, lead author of the article and director of the Earth System Governance research alliance: "Societies must change course to steer away from critical tipping points in the Earth system that could lead to rapid and irreversible change. Incremental change is no longer sufficient to bring about societal change at the level and with the speed needed to stop earth system transformation. Structural change in global governance is needed, both inside and outside the UN system and involving both public and private actors".
All 32 authors of this article are affiliated with the Earth System Governance Project, a global research alliance of hundreds of researchers and leading research institutions, specializing in the scientific study of international and national environmental governance. The Earth System Governance Project is part of the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change.
The assessment underlying this article has been mandated by the organizers of the huge science conference "Planet under Pressure", to be held 26-29 March 2012 in London, with several thousand scientists participating. It is also a key contribution of the science community to the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development ("Rio+20").