The Challenges of Global Environmental Governance

Global environmental governance, similar in some respects to corporate governance, includes policy, rules and norms that govern human behavior and it also addresses who makes those decisions, how they are made and carried out, the scientific information needed for decision-making and how the public and major stakeholders can participate in the decision-making process. Governance is an essential part of solving environmental challenges and issues because these challenges may be regulated on a national or local basis and some may affect more than one nation, requiring regional or global actions and agreements.

Some experts suggest that ethical approaches to doing business in international settings should take into account the political orientations of the host country. Using this idea, coupled with knowledge from corporate governance, researchers have suggested an integrative governance model, taking into account the mechanisms, structures, and codes of conduct in a given country which can be used to promote ethical behavior across multinational companies and their subsidiaries in difference degrees or stages.

We could think of the recent work of the United Nations Environmental Program – UNEP – as a global governance mechanism or structure in its efforts to support countries in the process of developing and implementing environmental rule of law and help them achieve the environmental dimension of the Sustainable Development Goals and other internationally agreed commitments. And there’s no doubt it’s doing interesting things.

For example, the UNEP is helping the Kuwait Environmental Governance Initiative (KEGI) to develop capacities for better implementation. This project helped set the stage for the Kuwait Environment Public Authority to be aligned with Kuwait National Development Plan and the Sustainable Development Goals to support the implementation agenda under the new country’s new Environmental Protection Law (EPL). Kuwait has a corporate governance code which plays a major role in ESG, tying environmental and social performance of companies to good corporate governance practices.

One of the key principles of the Paris Agreement is the idea of “common but differentiated responsibilities,” which means that while there’s a duty on all countries to take environmental action, the types of action they take will depend on their differing national circumstances. This also highlights that countries are affected differently by climate change. No surprise that these differences in the cause, impact and readiness of a country pose challenges to adopting an integrative governance model for the environment. So, too, does the back and forth of various political and regulative positions on the future of the environment – even within the same country such as is the case with the Trump and Biden administrations wanting the leave and then rejoin the Paris Agreement, respectively.

To the surprise of many, in April 2023, the United Nations General Assembly in New York passed a resolution co-sponsored by more than 130 countries. The resolution means that the UN General Assembly will seek the opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on countries’ obligations to address climate change. The measure passed by consensus, meaning none of the UN’s 193 member states, including the biggest emitters like China and the U.S., objected to the resolution.

While such a move will help forward the idea of an integrated governance model for the environment quite well, as many governance experts know the implementation is always more challenging. Some companies will strictly follow only that which is required by the country laws in which they operate when it comes to environmental issues and claim that as a win for global governance. Other companies will stretch beyond laws to provide more of a moral tone for their governance culture. Either way, boards will change the way they operate by integrating the country’s mechanisms, structures, and codes of conduct in ways that have not been needed in the past.


  1. Erisa Weraga on February 27, 2024 at 3:33 am

    Good work

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