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Addressing a black tie dinner of the United Nations Association in September 1997, media magnate Ted Turner shocked the world with the announcement that he would contribute $1 billion to the United Nations. Turners gift, roughly the size of the world bodys annual operating budget, will be used to fund normal activities of the international organization. But it comes with politically correct strings attached. The billionaire founder of CNN and vice-chairman of Time Warner is a strident advocate of environmentalist causes, and he wants the UN to use his money to promote his agenda.
Turner has created a "UN Foundation" to disburse his money. The Foundation will "tell the UN story" to skeptical American taxpayers, promote smaller families and birth control, and work to restrain energy use by people around the world. Turners money will be funneled through international agencies such as the UN Population Fund, the World Health Organization, and the UN Environment Programme. But non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, will be central in planning and implementing his agenda. Turner understands the crucial role they play.
What are NGOs, and why do they figure so prominently in the international environmental establishment? Besides participating in UN-sponsored treaty negotiations, NGOs engage in a wide range of other activities. They design and propose texts for international treaties, conventions, and other instruments of international law. They monitor governments and private businesses to determine whether they are in compliance with national and international rules. Their attorneys file suit in U.S. and foreign court systems against public and private bodies they consider out of compliance with the law. NGOs sponsor consumer boycotts and launch media campaigns against companies, organizations, and policies they oppose. Indeed, the most enterprising NGOs will help governments implement environmental public policies based on legislation their lobbyists helped draft in response to public protests their activists organized.
The NGO emerged in the early 1990s as a prominent new force in international affairs. Non-governmental advocacy groups are involved in international efforts to plan global economic development, regulate science and technology, restrict population growth, and intervene in social policymaking. An all-encompassing green ideology is now an integral part of the vocabulary of our policymakers.
Most major environmental groups now pursue international activities. The Sierra Club, National Audubon Society, and National Wildlife Federation were created at the turn of the century to address domestic concerns. But in recent years all have developed international departments with expanded agendas. Likewise, the Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council were founded in the 1970s to litigate in U.S. courts and influence executive branch enforcement of environmental regulation. Today, each is active on the international front covering such issues as global warming and ozone depletion.
U.S. nonprofit organizations have played a critical role in transforming the global public agenda. These groups are both critics and advisers of governments, and they have spawned like-minded organizations across the globe. NGOs have joined nation-states, central banks and international agencies as institutions authorized to define the worlds problems and propose policy fixes.
Environmentalist NGOs are achieving their objectives gradually, and largely under a cloak of secrecy. Few Americans know that non-profit organizations, staffed by professionals and financed by a mix of private and public funds, exercise real power in the conduct of diplomacy and the creation of international policy. A global environmentalist movement is using international law and the assistance of the United Nations and other international agencies to undermine national self-government, economic freedom, and personal liberty. The behind-the-scenes efforts of this ideologically-driven political force deserve greater attention. Thanks in part to Ted Turners generosity, the Global Greens will continue to utilize international forums to promote their political agenda well into the foreseeable future.
James M. Sheehan (email@example.com ) is deputy director of environmental policy at CEI.