The Environment and International Relations

The author explains the historical background against which the development of an international institutional framework for sustainable development occurred. He highlights the establishment of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) designed to implement the resolutions of the Rio Conference (Imber, 1996, p. 149). Its primary role is the formal coordination of the UN’s institutions and their programs. Establishing the CSD added to a long-standing complexity in the form of institutional fragmentation leading to an overlap and duplication of roles (Imber, 1996, p. 149). The complication is caused by the existence of other institutions with almost similar responsibilities. Additionally, rather than being proactive, the UN’s actions emanate from and are influenced by its members (Imber, 1996, p. 149). The discourse also provides insights into the CSD’s operations, such as when and how it convenes and its procedures. It highlights the indifference of two of its constituents as the major reason undermining the CSD’s effectiveness in the discharge of its mandate.

The author also discusses the limitations of the UN. He asserts that it is the best forum to conduct “environmental diplomacy” because it is the only institution where global norms and laws for managing worldwide environmental change can occur (Imber, 1996, pp. 149-50). He also declares the UN the worst place for such negotiations mainly because member states are its primary and only recognized constituents, thus, other major stakeholders are excluded (Imber, 1996, p. 150). Hence, although they can be consulted, NGOs cannot participate in binding conventions, thus, marginalized groups are acknowledged in Agenda 21 as a mere compliment of their status (Imber, 1996, p. 150). The UN’s structure and sectoral approach to development hamper the transition to sustainable development and he describes it as a weak, feudal organization with inadequate financial resources compared to its agencies.

Accordingly, the conclusion is that the global stage may not be the best platform for resolving some environmental issues. Delays in global consensus-making, financial constraints, the lack of political goodwill from the developed nations and a contemporaneous political skepticism from the Global South as some of the major impairments (Imber, 1996, p. 151). Accordingly, rather than globalism, Imber proposes a functionalist approach underlined by common interests and an agitation for the democratization of the UN (1996, p. 151). He opines that the Global North’s recognition of the structural inequalities of the system as an integral element of sustainable development is imperative for the UN to qualify as truly liberal.

Ogley, with a specific focus on the United Nations Law of the Sea III (UNCLOS III), delves into the supply side perspective of the development of global environmental norms. He explores the circumstances and arrangements that underlie the generation of these norms, the choices that must be made in these processes, evaluates the productivity of these choices, and interrogates potential facilitators of more compliance (Ogley, 1996, p. 155). The author scrutinizes the influences behind the policy-maker’s choice of either the “framework convention and protocol” or “package-deal” options in treaty-making and critiques the latter approach in which UNCLOS III was adopted (Ogley, 1996, p. 156). Based on conflict theory, he also highlights the process involved in the negotiations of the convention and elaborates on some important influences in the formulation of international norms.

The chapter belabors the distinction between the “framework convention and protocol” and “package-deal” approaches to treaty-making as it criticizes the latter, which constitutes the option adopted for the UNCLOS III (Ogley, 1996, p. 156). There is an obvious preference for the framework convention and protocol alternative as well as a general sense of dissatisfaction in the global norm-making process on environmental matters (Ogley, 1996, p. 156-7). Consequently, there is a call for the adoption of a functional approach, which gravitates toward the framework convention and protocol as it facilitates a speedy process that results in stringent performance targets (Ogley, 1996, p. 157). Additionally, this approach allows for adaptability as well as the potential for penalties for non-compliance (Ogley, 1996, p. 157). The attempt to formulate a comprehensive, one-stop global solution was a bad idea as it was a complex, protracted process whose final product was eventually snubbed by three of its most important stakeholders (Ogley, 1996, p. 158). Consequently, the effectiveness of the UNCLOS III was impaired from the onset

The author highlights the potential for informal consultations as tools for building consensus, as a suggestion of how to improve the current UNCLOS III framework (Ogley, 1996, p. 158). However, there is a reiteration of the flexibility presented by the framework convention, albeit with a recognition of its flaws as well as nine suggestions on how to improve it (Ogley, 1996, p. 159). The author draws parallels between these recommendations and the provisions of UNCLOS III and notes various similarities but discourages the linkage of diverse issues under one convention (Ogley, 1996, p. 159-60). The chapter also elaborates on the intricacies of formulating a “packaged-deal” as evidenced by the negotiation of UNCLOS III, which was primarily characterized by the persistent emergence of unanticipated agenda that yielded frustration (Ogley, 1996, p. 160). Consequently, there are calls for rehabilitation or improvements on the UNCLOS III.

Relying on the conflict and games theories, the author demonstrates how various interests and influences affect the treaty-making process and wonders if it is possible to have a pure debate approach without a game aspect (Ogley, 1996, pp. 161-2). Reliance is placed on the ‘acid rain’ issue where, regardless of the prevailing need for a debate approach to air pollution, the varying interests in play have led to the dominance of games. However, this author contends that the proposition that the convention-protocol approach is not appropriate for the superiority of games and the development of debate needs more support (Ogley, 1996, p. 153). Finally, the chapter enumerates various factors that underlie the formulation of global environmental norms. These factors include the generality of participation, external and internal legitimacy, flexibility, and specificity (Ogley, 1996, p. 163). Notably, there is recognition of the possibility of these factors being at odds with each other.


Imber, M. (1996). The environment and the United Nations. In J. Vogler & M. Imber (Eds.), The environment and international relations (pp. 138-154). Routledge.

Ogley, R. (1996). Between the devil and the law of the sea: The generation of global environmental norms. In J. Vogler & M. Imber (Eds.), The environment and international relations. (pp. 155-170). Routledge.

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