How to Fix International Inaction on Climate

January 2012 brought an unusually warm average temperature to the planet.
January 2012 brought an unusually warm average temperature to the planet. (Image credit: NASA/JPL)

Humans have been altering fundamental natural processes on our planet, but the international community has not effectively addressed the mess we've gotten ourselves and the rest of life on this planet into, according to a group of social scientists.

They offer seven recommendations — including restructuring within the United Nations and more coordination with the economic side — they believe will enable the global community to take action.

Climate change is perhaps the most prominent example of the disconnect between a problem and the international community's attempts to respond.

The first framework to address the issue was established at a meeting in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

"Since then there is no change in the emission trends of major countries," Frank Biermann, the lead author and a professor of political science and environmental policy sciences at the VU University Amsterdam in The Netherlands, said in a podcast interview released by the journal Science.

"The current state of global climate governance is surely not effective in dealing with the challenge of global warming we see today," Biermann said.

The action being taken is scattered, he said: "We have at present about 900 international agreements in force dealing with some aspects of the environment, but all are fragmented. There is not a coherent system of international law that is uniting all of these."

The seven "building blocks" Biermann and his 31 colleagues suggest include structural changes within the United Nations, such as upgrading the UN Environmental Programme to a specialized agency, along the lines of the World Health Organization. Environmental goals must become a consideration for global trade, investment and finance regimes, which would keep economic goals from undermining environmental solutions. For example, world trade law should differentiate between products based on production to promote cleaner products.

Consensus-based decision making needs to go, because it limits decisions based on the least ambitious party, according to the team; instead, they propose qualified majority voting, like that used by the European Union, which allows a measure to pass without a unanimous vote but with more than a simple majority.

The other four goals include:

·         Equity and fairness: This goal would include financial support for the poorer countries to help them meet sustainability measures.

·         Global cooperation regarding the regulation of various sustainability measures: This would include an overarching framework for emerging technologies, such as nanotechnology, synthetic biology and geo-engineering.

·         Mechanisms for transparency and accountability

·         The creation of a high-level UN Sustainable Development Council directly under the UN General Assembly.

The group made their recommendations, which are detailed in the March 16 issue of the journal Science, based on an assessment conducted by the Earth System Governance Project. The recommendations are designed to contribute to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro scheduled to take place in June.

You can follow Live Science senior writer Wynne Parry on Twitter @Wynne_Parry. Follow Live Science for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.

Wynne Parry
Wynne was a reporter at The Stamford Advocate. She has interned at Discover magazine and has freelanced for The New York Times and Scientific American's web site. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Utah.