Global Institution and the Environment

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

14 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Content


Section I
1 Introducing the Research Paper
1.1 Global Institutions
1.2 Development of Global Institutions
1.2.1 The Pre-1968 Era
1.2.2 The Stockholm Era
1.2.3 The Post-Rio Era

Section II
2 The World Bank’s Response to Environmental Issues
2.1 Global Governance

Section III
3 Conclusion



Environmental awareness is as great as ever before thanks to environmental actors. One of them are Global Institutions which have been criticised for either not being effective, too bureaucratic or only representing Northern policies. This paper looks into the development of Global Institutions over the last century and examines the World Bank’s responsiveness to environmental concerns. The paper concludes that reaching institutional consensus is difficult besides the rising number of environmental accords.

1 Introducing the Research Paper

This research paper is on the topic of global institutions and the environment. Section I includes aspects mentioned during the presentation on December 8th, 2006, however are extended in this paper. Section II expands on the overall topic and looks into the governance of environmental issues by the World Bank.

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 1.2 looks into their development over time.

There are about seven main political actors involved in an environmental framework. There 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). There is a huge debate whether international institutions posses the capacity to deliver global collective environmental benefits to all. Section 2 will therefore examine the World Bank’s responsiveness to environmental concerns.

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 […]”. 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).

1.1 Global Institutions

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 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. Main functions comprise the 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.

Further, global institutions 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 intergovernmental organisations 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. 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. 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”.

1.2 Development of Global Institutions

With reference to Soroos (1999, pp. 28) there are three distinctive post-war periods which are 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 has 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 IGOs weaknesses down to their lack of central environmental authority; no international legal enforcement, power of countervailing interest groups and the need to influence national governments.

1.2.1 The Pre-1968 Era

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. UN specialised agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation or the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) were founded in 1945. The International Whaling Commission was also founded during that time.

The influence on environmental issues of the Bretton Woods institutions World Bank and the IMF became more important in later decades. Also there is the International Whaling Commission which was founded in 1946 in England.


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Global Institution and the Environment
University of Kassel
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Environmental awareness is as great as ever before thanks to environmental actors. One of them are Global Institutions which have been criticised for either not being effective, too bureaucratic or only representing Northern policies. This paper looks into the development of Global Institutions over the last century and examines the World Bank's responsiveness to environmental concerns.
Global, Institution, Environment
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Vicki Preibisch (Author), 2006, Global Institution and the Environment, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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