More than ever, the United Nations is facing global environmental threats, due to poor governance strategy and various obstacles related to multilateralism. Environmental problems are, by definition, transboundary issues. This chapter will focus on one of the main challenges of environmental law and governance: biodiversity loss. The conservation of biodiversity has been recognized as a common concern of humanity. Nevertheless, even if a vast majority of UN member states agree on the importance of tackling environmental issues such as this one, the lack of binding regulations and good implementation leads to poor results.
Using Sustainable Development Goals 14 and 15, I will discuss governance and legal issues concerning the identified goals, and the international community’s capacity to meet them in practice. One of the major problems concerning biodiversity conservation is the multiplication of instruments contained in its legal regime as well as the overlap of actors involved. This chapter will also evaluate the upcoming challenges that the world and the United Nations will have to solve in the next decades in terms of biodiversity challenges at a multilateral level.
The chapter will explore two specific challenges that the UN must face in this new era of environmental degradation and climate crisis, which depart from the issues it was prepared to face when it was founded. Nowadays, after 75 years of work by universal and regional bodies, regional human rights courts such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have taken important steps toward the protection of the environment, with new regional treaties or with creative connections between regional human rights charters and the protection of the environment. These developments need to be observed, appraised and included in the universal efforts led by the UN, and a closer universal – regional dialogue is needed.
Regarding a second issue, the underrepresentation of indigenous peoples, their rights and their environmental agendas is still a challenge both at the UN and the local level. Securing active, permanent and effective representation of indigenous peoples in international bodies is vital for understanding different perspectives and solutions for particular environmental issues and climate change.
In recent years, scholars’ attention to changes of government toward non-democratic variants has increased. The studies to date crystallize around a consensus that the modes of democratic regression in the post-Cold War period differ from the previous ones and that the prevailing archetype for this period is democratic erosion marked by two characteristics: first, a gradual and incremental process distinct from abrupt breakdowns such as coups d’état, executive coups or revolutions; and second, the process is implemented by legally elected incumbents by legal means or upholding the façade of legal means. In fact, quantitative measurement corroborates that 70 percent of the cases of autocratization after 1994 occurred on account of democratic erosion.
So far, scholars have set out to describe and explain this process of gradual democratic erosion on a domestic level. This chapter will take a different perspective and ask: What foreign policy implications does the fact that countries are in a process of democratic erosion have on the international level? Departing from an actor-centered approach, the argument is that the protagonist of democratic erosion, the erosion agent, might link her or his domestic mission to missions on the regional or international level. That means that in the same way that erosion agents strive to change the rules of the game domestically, they strive to change the rules of regional politics or even might try to influence the international level.
This chapter looks at cases of democratic erosion and the activities of their incumbents on the regional and international level and traces in what way and to what degree the erosion agents did change foreign policy approaches and introduce new foreign policy elements. The sample for this study embraces the following countries: Venezuela, Russia, Hungary and Poland, as well as the United States under President Trump.
Brazil is facing a very difficult moment due to the chaotic institutional relationships in many sectors of politics and the economy. When we focus on the environmental sector, the situation is the same: a severe crisis, specifically regarding climate change policies. In the recent past, during the Conference of Parties (COP 21) in Paris (2015), when the Paris Agreement was adopted, Brazil set an important target to reduce national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 36–38 percent GHG reduction below the national baseline in 2005. Today, reaching these targets is under serious threat.
Naturally, a large part of these targets refer to GHG reduction associated with land use, land use change and forestry. These are the biggest challenges in this country. However, the challenge to reduce industrial and fleet GHG emissions has become increasingly important to Brazil. São Paulo has been preparing policies to deal with these challenges and applying them. In 2012, the government introduced a subnational policy for 29 activities of the industrial sector demanding the realization of such GHG inventory and reporting them to the Environmental Agency (CETESB). This was a pioneering action in a country where carbon dioxide is not a regulated pollutant. The main objective was to reinforce the monitoring of GHG inventory in industrial plants in the state.
Thus, São Paulo has implemented a new innovative policy, the São Paulo Environment Agreement. This Agreement is entirely voluntary, without any legal liability. The initiative was launched in November 2019 and was adopted by 55 subscribers, including companies in the private sector and associations. Furthermore, in 2021, the Agreement was still expanding and included 193 subscribers. Its objectives are to stimulate new areas of the private sector to adopt and increase sustainable practices; to facilitate access to markets that enforce high standards and low carbon emissions in products and services; and to contribute to the maintenance of the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) targets from the Paris Agreement. The adoption of this voluntary Agreement should be well researched in order to provide a better understanding of the policies and results that can be expected from it.
The Arctic Ocean has become a geopolitical core area and the interests of many nations are driven by the consequences and opportunities of climate change. These fast-developing consequences have changed all perspectives. Despite accelerated warming, the Arctic will remain a very dangerous, challenging and unpleasant place for maritime, air and land activities. There will be a perfect storm every year.
The strategic importance of the Arctic has increased. Five countries are littoral states to the Arctic Ocean: Canada, Denmark/Greenland, Norway, Russia and the United States. A total of eight countries, including Finland, Iceland and Sweden, form the Arctic Council, the forum dealing with all Arctic issues with the exception of security and defense. The Council is based on multilateralism. Impressive achievements include four agreements for good governance in the Arctic.
The important perspectives are climate change, resource exploitation, military build-up and exercises, and the Arctic as a habitat. Military power projection is already a serious issue and needs more awareness. The Arctic can no longer be considered in isolation from what is emerging in other regions, and the tensions between Russia and China on the one hand, and the West on the other, have already had an impact on what is happening in the Arctic region: Resource exploitation and transiting the Northern Sea Route are the highest priority for Russia and China; the issue of nuclear waste in the Arctic Ocean and ashore is threatening and a global concern; sovereign rights of Canada and Russia inside territorial waters are disputed; and Greenland and Svalbard deserve greater attention. The process of major changes will continue in the Arctic region, and a key aspect is the understanding of, on the one hand, how to protect the Arctic Region and, on the other hand, how to use the resources that are accessible due to climate change and new technology.
Can we speak of a rule of law in the multilateral system of trade and investment? This chapter focuses on a contemporary analysis of the rule of law, one that has strayed from its original purpose: to ensure that the equality of any individual or government prevails, before the law. By this, we mean a rule of law that is increasingly being used selectively to favor the interests of certain governments and companies over others.
This analysis examines how the original subject of the rule of law, that is, the individual, has been replaced by economic entities personified in corporations and how the agreements for the protection of foreign investment are the most useful instrument for companies to discipline the self-determination of governments.
Multilateralism is challenged, in part due to great power rivalry. There is no substitute for states’ willingness to engage productively in multilateral affairs, but while there is no silver bullet to reinvigorate multilateralism, “inclusive multilateralism” holds some potential.
Inclusive multilateralism entails the participation, in different ways, of other stakeholders: civil society, business and other levels of government including cities. The Declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly to celebrate the UN’s 75th anniversary indeed calls for a more inclusive multilateralism; and in this context, the Secretary-General specifically identified cities.
Why are cities increasingly active in multilateral arenas? Because global issues are often local issues, and vice versa. Examples include climate change, the Sustainable Development Goals, migration, biodiversity and COVID-19. In all these areas, and many more, cities are, in effect, actors. And what they do – or don’t do – matters globally. So, cities often manage, in various ways, to “get a seat at the global table” and, in addition to acting on those issues, they influence the agenda. Such involvement, by cities and other stakeholders, will likely contribute to the evolution of multilateralism in the years ahead.
In 2020, the United Nations turned 75 years old amid an unprecedented pandemic of worldwide proportions, combined with explicit and hidden tensions in all regions of the globe and a growing sense of inequality and imbalances between different peoples and countries of the world. All of the above should have provided the perfect setting and justification for the work of our only truly global and multitask organization to be highlighted as useful and more important than ever.
Yet while few people, and even fewer experts, doubt the values, objectives and raison d’être of the UN, paradoxically, the last few years (2020 included) have seen the relevance, action and visibility of this global body (and indeed of many other multilateral organizations) severely diminished as it has been placed on the sidelines of global affairs. Some people (maybe not many, but some nonetheless) even question the very need or justification for the UN to continue to exist. While it doesn’t take much to realize that the world in the 2020s is much different than in 1945, the year of its creation, and when debate and opinions are divided on whether the UN has been able to adapt and change with the times, it would seem that the UN, and multilateralism in general, are being criticized and even challenged by a number of issues and actors that go well beyond the simple criticism of a bureaucratic organization that has not kept up with the times.
This chapter attempts to argue that the challenges to multilateralism are, ironically, also multilateral, and that everyone and everybody has something to say about it. The threats can be grouped into three major categories of challenges: the changing world order and geopolitics; the newly found prominence of nonstate actors; and the misguided internal actions and functioning of the various UN system organizations themselves (beyond just classic bureaucratic issues, and encompassing policy development, human resources management and administrative flaws). Finally, an attempt is made to suggest possible ways to deal with some of these challenges.
The majority of migrants cross international borders to work, to reunite with family or to pursue studies. These categories of migrants generally do not have specific protection needs. In contrast, migrants fleeing conflict, persecution and natural disaster situations, and even those who are compelled to leave their countries of origin in search of better economic and social opportunities, face tremendous protection challenges during their journey. Many irregular migrants are highly vulnerable during their migration journey, facing a heightened risk of violence, exploitation and abuse, leading to traumatic experiences or even loss of life. Looking at this reality on the ground, the 75th anniversary of the United Nations represents an occasion to provide an overview of how the organization has addressed the persistent and ever-growing challenges surrounding migrant protection and assistance. This chapter highlights existing normative and institutional gaps in addressing challenges related to migrant protection and assistance and the responses taken, primarily at the policy and programmatic level, to address them.