Manhattan College International Studies Program Director Contributes to Environmental Governance Reform Prior to Rio+20

African government officials are working to coordinate an African position on one key focus of Rio+20 – reforming international environmental governance.

As international organizations around the world prepare for next year’s United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), African government officials and a variety of representatives are working to coordinate an African position on one key focus of Rio+20 – reforming international environmental governance (IEG). In fact, 35 representatives from government ministries, international or civil society, universities, foundations and the private sector recently met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to analyze and discuss the process, including Pamela Chasek, Ph.D., associate professor of government and director of the international studies program at Manhattan College.

“One of the big issues on the agenda is governance because we have this massive system of international environmental governance, including multiple treaties and organizations with overlapping mandates,” explained Chasek. As an expert in international environmental policy and foreign policy, Chasek was one of five representatives from outside the African Union, invited to the May 23-24 consultation to discuss the African priorities and contribute to the African preparatory process.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) is leading the initiative to develop an African position on IEG with the help of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). IISD organized two consultations, including the Ethiopia one in May, and a second to be held before October, to assist in forming the official African position, which will be adopted by the African Union Summit in January 2012 and presented at the Rio+20 conference in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, June 3-6, 2012.

Chasek mentioned that the most common reform proposition discussed at the Ethiopia consultation was the fact that: “We have a negotiating system where governments get together at international meetings and negotiate treaties and then negotiate follow-up actions. So we have people who are very good at negotiating, but now we need to move to better implementation.” For example, Chasek highlighted how there are international treaties looking at different environmental issues from hazardous chemicals and waste to biological diversity, from climate change to ozone depletion to desertification, but they have not been implemented as well as they should be, largely due to competing priorities and a lack of capacity, finances and technology.

“It was a great experience to sit in a room with people speaking off the record in a personal capacity. All of the diplomatic trappings were gone,” added Chasek. “The general consensus was that Africa has an important role to play in determining the future of IEG.”

Since returning from Ethiopia, Chasek has started planning how she can integrate the issues and reform policies she discussed into the curriculum for her fall International Organizations and Global Issues courses. In International Organizations, she will discuss Rio+20 and also conduct a United Nations simulation. The Global Issues course looks at numerous issues related to the trip, including environmental challenges, population growth and urbanization, and many of the photos Chasek took in Ethiopia will be used in class to illustrate the challenges of dealing with urbanization and environmental problems in developing countries.

After completing a Fulbright scholarship in 2007 in New Zealand focusing on the issue of moving from negotiation to implementation in the Pacific Islands, Chasek has continued writing and publishing works on environmental negotiations and environmental governance issues. She is also the co-founder and executive editor of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin, a reporting service on United Nations environment and development negotiations. Prior to Rio+20, Chasek’s latest book The Roads from Rio: Lessons learned from 20 years of multilateral environmental negotiations will be released in January 2012. In addition, she is the author and editor of: Global Environmental Politics, 5th edition, The Global Environment in the 21st Century: Prospects for International Cooperation and Earth Negotiations: Analyzing Thirty Years of Environmental Diplomacy.

To learn more about Chasek’s work at the IISD consultation or Rio+20, please contact Liz Connolly, assistant director of communications, via e-mail at