A Human Environment Ombudsman
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A statement presented on behalf of the Union of International Associations
to the Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Conference on the Human
Environment (Stockholm, 1972). Published in International
pp. 46-47 [searchable PDF version]
- New threats to the human environment will be identified each
year as the global civilization becomes increasingly more complex.
- It is characteristic of multi-disciplinary human environment
problems that it is difficult to predict what domain such new
threats will arise in, and therefore to decide in advance which
agency should be responsible for any action. Problems are turned
into crises if adequate responses cannot be rapidly organized.
What finally makes all of our crises still more dangerous
is that they are now coming on top of each other. Most administrations
are not prepared to deal with multiple crises, a crisis of crises,
at one time. Every problem may escalate because those involved
no longer have time to think straight. (John R. Platt. "
What we must do ". Science, November, 1969)
- In order to equip itself to respond to complex unpredictable
crises, society needs to make full use of all the organizational
resources at its disposal and willing to contribute in some way.
- Specific recognition therefore needs to be given to the function
of national and international no/i-governmental bodies and pressures groups
look-out " institutions which,
specialized interest and sensitivity :
- identify new threats to the human environment at an early
- mobilize support to draw public attention to the nature of
each new threat;
- encourage governments to take legislative action to counter
act the threats to the environment;
- help to generate the political will without which governments
- support government agencies by providing a pool of experts
to monitor the problems and steps toward its solution, and to
advise on legislation;
- supply a non-political forum in which the problem can be
discussed before it is handled between governments in a political
- These are all aspects of the democratic process which are
relevant to the rapid solution of human environment problems.
The speed and effectiveness with which society can respond to
crises is highly dependent on the effectiveness of the information
system. An exclusive information system restricted or oriented
toward the current responsibilities and interests of a limited sector
of society, even if highly significant, as in the case of intergovernmental
social and political communication mechanism to restructure itself
to carry out the functions identified in point 4 above, with respect to new problems:
- does not facilitate the ability of government to interact with
the non-governmental sector to obtain advice on and support for
action in response to human environment problems.
- encourages non-governmental groups to set up their own
independent communications networks and information centers,
leading naturally to a dissipation of effort and competition for
limited resources, lack of coordination and reduction of overall
- A further aspect of the human environment problem is the
increasing alienation of the individual in the urban environment,
who is faced with the maze of "
faceless "organizations perceived
as increasingly invading his privacy. The creation of exclusive governmental
information systems which ignore the need of the individual and his groups
to be able to use an information system to make and maintain contacts to further
his interests, serves in many ways clearly to :
- aggravate the problem of alienation
- increase the problem of the governments to create the "
will to change ";
- increase the "
credibility gap " and suspicion inherent
in individual perception of distant government programmes.
- To prepare for unpredictable problems, the United Nations
Conference on the Human Environment in considering the communications and information processing system which
be most appropriate for the coming decade, should study :
- Means of guaranteeing the interaction between governmental
and non-governmental users through the system -- even when
a given problem recognized by a non-governmental body is not
currently recognized by a government or governmental agency.
- Means of guaranteeing the interaction between non-governmental users
through the system (independently of a governmental agency's current judgement
of the value of a particular inter action) in order that non-government
bodies should be able to initiate rapidly new links and patterns of interaction
themselves in response to any new problem, or in response to a call for
support by a governmental agency.
- Means of guaranteeing the interaction between individuals
through the system so that active individuals or bodies, anxious to contribute
significantly, can detect:
- bodies or programmes (governmental) or non-governmental) in which
they can participate,
- problem areas for which individuals or bodies with matching interests
could group together and create some new body to further their interest,
- individuals interested in working, together on a particular problem
- Means of guaranteeing that when the connection between .
apparently unrelated problem areas is discovered, this link is
incorporated into the information system, so that users interested
in one problem area will be automatically exposed to the complete list
of problems known to be related to the one which primarily interests them.
- Means of decentralizing the information system to
provide a network of input and output centers at regional, national,
and city level to insure that funds for the system can be sought at
the level at which they will be most frequently spent, whilst at the
same time guaranteeing the circulation of information vertically to
the regional and international level, and horizontally to other bodies
in other areas.
- The increasing multidisciplinary interest in the human environment
counterbalances many of the excesses of economic development -- which
was narrowly conceived as the major key to world problems. The Human Environment
Conference will be counterproductive to the extent that human environment
programmes are, in their turn, narrowly conceived as the panacea,
which, it is hoped, would give a new lease on life to economic development
programmes. The as-yet ill defined social organizational and problem context
of governmental human environment concerns could, if ignored, undermine
effective response on environmental issues -- as happened with respect
to development issues.
Human environment problems need to be seen as intimately related to social
development, which itself needs to be preconception as distinct from
its current definition as the development of human resources for the
benefit of economic development.
- In order to improve communication and action throughout the network
of governmental and non-governmental agencies with respect to multidisciplinary
human environment problems, the Conference could consider the feasibility
of creating the Office of "
Ombudsman ". This
Office would act as an independent international clearing house for comments
from all sources on human environment problems (or administrative circumstances
preventing their rapid solution), particularly those arising from the
uncoordinated interaction of different agency programmes. Such an Office
would be responsible for informing agencies and governments of
aspects of agency programme content or procedures likely to have unwelcome
side-effects which could neither be detected by the disciplines represented
within the agency nor be considered relevant in terms of the agency's
The existence of such an Office could guarantee that :
- there would be an open line of communication to all bodies
likely to encounter or identify new human environment problems
(The Office could function as a focal point within the
inter national organizational network with which the many
environment activist groups could interact and to which they
could feed information);
- emerging and previously identified problems are rapidly reg
istered'and drawn to the attention of the most relevant agencies;
- pollution and conservation issues do not pre-empt attention
from the broader human environment issues. The perspective
required should retrieve social development
from its current
obfuscation by economic development priorities.
The precise limits of
the responsibility of the Human Environment
Ombudsman would need to be defined to fill any gap between conservation
agencies, human rights commissions, and development-oriented agencies.
The Office could in fact act as a referral centre for queries outside
its mandate, particulary if its existance was widely known as a result
of adequate public information programmes.