The UN environmental agency (UNEP) said the issues of disparity between aligning of governance to the challenges of global sustainability tops list of emerging issues as they are critical for environmental sustainability.
The UNEP has also recognized 21 concerns as most important emerging issues by the scientific community this century, yet are not receiving adequate attention from the policy community.
The organisation's chief scientist Joseph Alcamo on Monday ranked the disparity between aligning of governance to the challenges of global sustainability as top in the cross-cutting issues that relate to the global environment at the ongoing UNEP's Governing Council in Nairobi,
He said the current system of international environmental governance, with its maze of interlocking multilateral agreements, is outdated since it lacks the necessary representativeness, accountability and effectiveness for the transition to sustainability, and that a much higher level of participation and transparency is needed. "New models of governance are being tested ranging from public- private-community partnerships to alliances between environmentalists and other civil society groups. However, its effectiveness is unclear and requires further scrutiny."
The chief scientist said adapting to global change and attaining a green economy will require a variety of new capabilities in the areas of job skills, modes of learning, management approaches and research efforts. "To cope with global environmental change, our society needs strategies and policies that are underpinned by strong science and evidence base. New social science research has articulated the way in which damaging human behavior can be transformed by public policy in a positive direction within a relatively short period of time."
He gave an example of cigarette smoking which switched from being a fashionable activity to a dangerous health hazard within one generation in many countries.
Giving ozone depletion, acid rain, tropical deforestation, mangrove destruction and biodiversity loss as examples of human interactions that result in cumulative degradation of the natural environment, Alcamo said the damage only became noticeable when their negative consequences appear, by which time he said, they are irreversible or more costly to mitigate.
Alcamo described environmental change as an aspect that is becoming increasingly important in the displacement of people, and which requires adequate response options to cope with migration caused by the phenomenon.
He said food safety as an area that is facing new challenges from the increasing disease transmission from animal to people as well as food contamination.
"There is an urgent need to increase the security and safety of the world's food supply by setting up more comprehensive early warning systems, supporting stallholder farmers, reducing food waste, and increasing agricultural efficiency."
Alcamo said decommissioning nuclear reactors is a major operation that poses several technical challenges, especially the disposal of large amounts of radioactive waste, which he said posed inherent environmental and safety risks.
Meanwhile, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said the agency's effort to protect the ozone layer remains the most frequently cited stories in international policy making.
Steiner said the Vienna Convention and its 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that deplete the Ozone Layer have led to the reduction of over 98 per cent of controlled ozone-depleting substances and a significant contribution to climate change mitigation.
"International agreements have been developed to regulate the trans-boundary movements of hazardous waste, procedures put in place for international trade of hazardous chemicals and pesticides, and agreements reached to phase out certain persistent organic pollutants, while negotiations are underway on a global legally binding instrument on mercury," Steiner.
Saying that the first Montevideo Program law of 1982 and its two successor ten-year programs has been a central pillar of UNEP' s work over the years, Steiner outlined that the Program has assisted over 120 governments to develop environmental legislation and identify and address challenges in implementation, compliance and enforcement.
He said the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) has led to over 30, 000 species being protected.
"This Convention was later complemented by the Convention of Migratory Species of Animals and the Convention on Biological Diversity, to which we have added two Protocols," he told delegates attending the UNEP Governing Council meeting in Nairobi.
He said UNEP, through successive revolutions in internet technology, has made a major contribution on environmental date and information systems which are critical to conducting assessment policy-making and monitoring.
Steiner said UNEP has natural allies in raising awareness and informing the public, describing them as partners who have played a critical role in supporting environmental efforts from national global levels.
He said the organisation's work on climate change aims at strengthening the ability of countries to integrate climate change responses into national development processes through a set of programs at the global and regional levels.
Steiner said UNEP has continued to provide critical and much- needed support to post-conflict countries in aftermath of disasters. "From post-conflict environmental assessments in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to rapid environmental emergency assessments following pipeline explosions and lead poisoning, UNEP has reconfirmed its essential role in bringing environmental experts on the ground," he said.