Introduction

The United Nations is one of humanity's greatest achievements, and at the same time it is a dream, a work in progress, challenged by the social and environmental impacts of economic globalization and by persistent national policies and choices that undermine agreed on goals and objectives. What role does the United Nations play in protecting, maintaining, and restoring environmental quality in this age of globalization? The United Nations, primarily organized to prevent wars and promote peaceful conflict resolution and political stability, has also, since its beginning, been a key player in the effort to promote social and economic development in countries attaining independence since World War II [2]. The connection (and initial perception of a conflict) between development and the environment was recognized in the early 1970s, and ever since, the UN has been weaving environmental awareness into its development programs, and a concern for development into its environmental programs. In addition, the widespread recognition of global interdependence and transnational environmental issues has led to a number of international conventions (treaties) that are administered through the UN. In combining concerns for development with environmental awareness, the UN has served as a leading reference point for the definition and global pursuit of sustainability, encompassing economic, social, and environmental elements. Despite the UN's lack of enforcement capabilities, the several international conventions that are housed within it serve as reference points for national, regional, and local policies that are enforceable. Myer and colleagues note the UN's integral position within a world environmental regime that has developed over the last several decades from informal discourse among scientific associations to more formal intergovernmental communications. In particular, the UN is foundational for addressing issues of long term environmental degradation in the absence of other strong collective actors [3].

The UN has reported that approximately 70% of its efforts are devoted to economic and social progress and development, and that it is well positioned to do so because it represents no single national nor business interest, and has a global presence. All countries have a voice in its major policy decisions [4]. Currently, the UN is working to help nations decentralize their development programs, and it is using the internationally agreed on Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) as a focal set of targets and accompanying criteria to attract funding and shape its programs. Goal 7 of the eight MDGs is to achieve major improvements in environmental sustainability. Presentations of the MDGs in publications and on the Internet emphasize the interconnectedness of all goals. In particular, the UN has stressed the importance of environmental protection to achieving development goals and to connecting the alleviation of poverty to environmental sustainability. The mode of operation for implementing the environmental programs of the United Nations is to develop project-focused partnerships with donor and host country governments, specific government agencies, private sector trade groups and corporations, the World Bank, and civil society organizations. The UN administrative units with the lead environmental roles are the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), in addition to the secretariats administering the various conventions. United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also houses some environmental programs and has declared 20052014 the decade of Education for Sustainable Development.

Globalization heightens the role of the UN as a clearinghouse and forum for the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the environment, as the interconnections between the quality of life across the planet become increasingly apparent. Globalization has many faces: internationalization, border openness, a process of capital accumulation, ideology, and a variety of transborder phenomena, such as the Internet [5,6]. As globalization alters the nature and character of governance at all levels, the UN becomes a more significant institution, an obstacle for some aspirations and an opportunity for others. Farazmand argues that the UN itself has been a major factor in globalization, although he focuses primarily on the economic structural adjustments required by the affiliate World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization. Stiglitz agrees that international finance institutions are dominated "by commercial and financial interests in the wealthiest industrial countries" [2].

The UN, in contrast, provides a platform for bringing nations together to discuss common concerns, and it has the administrative structure to network and partner with all sectors to bring global aspirations of peace and sufficiency within reach, and to address global environmental issues and ecological sustainability [7]. The UN and its affiliates have themselves contributed substantially to the documentation of how the role of government is shifting in response to these new circumstances [5,8].

How has the United Nations, originally organized with the goal of preventing armed conflict around the world, come to include environmental protection in its portfolio of concerns and programs? The history of UN environmental interest is highlighted by five major events, each of which has served to energize international commitment to the environment, far beyond the funding of specific UN programming. These are the Stockholm Convention on the Human Environment (1972), the Brundtland Report (1987), The UN Conference on Environment and Development (also known as the Earth Summit), which produced the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21 (1992), The Millenium Declaration and MDGs (2000), and the World Conference on Sustainable Development (held in Johannesburg, 2002).

The Stockholm Convention on the Human Environment of 1972 is widely perceived as the initial step in the organization of international efforts to protect the environment through the instrument of the United Nations. However, in the prior year, the Man and the Biosphere program (MAB) was instituted within the UNESCO. This was primarily conceived of as a scientific research venture to better understand the details of specific different ecosystems around the world, and has led to the enrollment of a number of sites into the international network of biosphere reserves. Research units were established in many developing countries [9].

The MAB program itself grew out of the work and experience with the International Biological Programme (IBP) and the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) [9]. The latter is now known as the International Council for Science, a non-governmental organization formed in 1931 to foster international cooperation on the advancement of science. United Nations, Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, in partnership with ICSU, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), organized a

Biosphere Conference in 1968. The MAB program has since been harnessed to serve the implementation of Agenda 21, and related Conventions, especially the Convention on Biodiversity. It has thus shifted from its focus on research to a means for reconciling resource use and conservation at the field level [10]. These early research-based international gatherings built a strong foundation for subsequent developments in international environmental governance.

Negotiating Essentials

Negotiating Essentials

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