As global environmental talks intensify ahead of next year's Earth Summit in Rio, Brice Lalonde, summit coordinator at the UN, called for a binding agreement on sustainable development to be reached via WTO-style negotiating rounds on topics such as energy or agriculture.
Brice Lalonde, executive coordinator of the UN Rio Earth Summit 2012, suggested creating "something that would be like an agreement" that is binding on its signatories.
The two UN institutions that currently deal with sustainable development – the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Commission on Sustainable Development – are seeking to ensure that the Agenda 21 sustainable development action plan drawn up at 1992's Rio Earth Summit is adequately followed up.
But these UN bodies lack the authority to push ambitious policies.
Discussions on global environmental governance currently revolve around creating a World Environment Organisation (WEO) responsible for ensuring effective action across multiple levels of decision-making.
Talks are mainly focused on upgrading the UNEP to a UN environmental organisation (UNEO).
But Lalonde instead favours something like the WTO, which was created after the Second World War with the adoption of the principle that "trade is good for economies".
Sharing his views, Lalonde suggested that "a general agreement on sustainable development or general agreement on environment and economies" could be the way forward, with the new principle at its heart that "healthy nature is good for economies".
The various rounds would focus for example on energy – both efficiency and access – agriculture and accounting, he said.
"There is a possibility of having a stronger agreement to which governments could commit," he said, explaining that the purpose of next year's Rio summit was to kick-start the process for the next 20 years.
Asked how his proposals had been received so far, Lalonde told EURACTIV that some fear that such a negotiation process would take too long, but that he had not encountered any major opposition to his suggestions.