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Review: “An Unfinished Foundation: The United Nations and Global Environmental Governance”

Updated: Jul 6, 2020

Ken Conca. An Unfinished Foudation: The United Nations and Global Environmental Governance.

Reviewed by Iris Aikaterini Frangou

The United Nations and Global Environmental Governance, a work by writer and analyst Ken Conca, is well deserving of the praise it has received thus far.

Conca does a commendable job at compiling thorough past cases of the ways in which the United Nations has addressed environmental issues through each of its four respective domains: international peace and security, rule of law among nations, human rights for all people, and social progress through development.

He takes notice of the limited actions that the UN has performed in addressing environmental issues in the context of global sustainability, and how the UN has constrained itself in working solely for the betterment of laws between nations and the advancement of development within these countries. Conca demonstrates that peace and rights are as inextricably linked to the environment – if not more so – as is the law intricately connected to the natural world. He therefore calls for the expansion of the UN’s scope, which he finds at present to be very narrow in focus.

The work’s novelty resides in the unique balance that it manages to strike in calling for change without discrediting the international organization responsible for effecting that very change. Conca does not urge his audience to subvert the UN, but, rather, by focusing upon the UN, he encourages his audience to alert institutions that have the capacity to act and a profound responsibility to see that change through, but which are culpable owing to their partially faulty approach towards resolving problems.

Conca focuses on the present without ignoring the past; in fact, he argues in favor of the integration of rights-based policies combining environmental sustainability with peacebuilding.

His pragmatism is most prevalent in his conclusion where he indicates the twofold advantage of instituting such policies, in respect to the two major stakeholders involved: the institution itself, which stands to increase its legitimacy and the global community, which significantly benefits from the implementation of more effective environmental policies by the UN.

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