Partnerships for the Planet

Stories from Geneva

Before the 1987 Brundtland Report, it would have seemed odd for the project Partnerships for the Planet to have business as a partner with organizations such as UNEP and the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Today it would seem to be telling less than half the story of environmental action to leave industry out. From energy-saving measures by a Geneva-based biotech firm that have been adopted by the local authorities, with the hope of transforming the energy consumption of the UN district, to business commitments made in Geneva towards global efforts to hold back climate change, industry has become a full partner in conservation.

Over the decades international Geneva has established itself as a coordinator of concerted efforts to tackle global problems related to the environment. IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has been a major triumph of international scientific analysis and policy coordination between UNEP and WMO. Interagency collaboration led by UNITAR has helped more than 100 countries to take steps on the road to integrated chemicals management. This project focuses on three types of common action at the local and especially at the international level: alliances between intergovernmental organizations; partnerships between international organizations, including NGOs, and the private sector; and initiatives by public and private entities.

The examples provide an indication of how many of the most effective alliances operate today, through «blue-green» partnerships between the UN and environmentally focused organizations or through national initiatives to translate Geneva's international efforts into local terms (rather than through top-down instructions from headquarters). Similarly, the mobile phones recycling and disposal initiative works with purely voluntary commitments by a range of normally suspicious, even hostile, «stakeholders» in a lucrative business. It is a learning process for governments and NGOs, as well as business.

We can note the innovatory steps to bring NGOs into the process of building a strategic approach to international chemicals management (SAICM), the new era in polar science initiatied by the International Polar Year research program, and the effort by the Group on Earth Observations to make new, practical and theoretical use of the information already gathered around the globe. IUCN is seeking to make a definitive global statement on the future of sustainability by involving its 1,000 state and NGO members in a public Internet debate. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the World Economic Forum are working to set out options for business to provide practical solutions for reducing global warming.

Twenty years after Brundtland, global Geneva is also local Geneva. International programs such as the WHO's Health and Environment Linkages Initiative seek to «walk the talk» of environmental sustainability with local action to improve conditions in the Geneva region. UNEP's Global Resource Information Database (GRID) boasts of more than 20 years' partnership with the university and local and federal authorities. Similarly, in its efforts to bring the sustainability principles of Agenda 21 to the local level, Geneva hooks up with international organizations to bring both sides together: its Festival of Sustainable Development invites organizations - local and international, private and governmental - to present the issues concretely and in an entertaining way, celebrating the «convivial and partnership dimension of sustainable development in Geneva».

Geneva remains a place to develop new ideas as well as implement them. As this project was being prepared, several environmental leaders put an unprecedented emphasis on the peace-promoting aspects of environmental security. Other contributors call for a global health and environment forum, suggest how WTO regulations can make better use of multilateral environmental agreements, note the advantages of clustering the secretariats for the chemicals and waste control conventions in the International Environment House, and suggest, perhaps optimistically, that time is ripe for a Universal Declaration on Environmental Rights.