01 Jul 2019 Blogpost Environmental rights and governance

Celebrating 10 years of collaboration for InforMEA: collective intelligence for environmental governance

Today’s environment is under immense and unprecedented pressure, and the field of international environmental law is evolving rapidly to meet these challenges. 

Multilateral Environmental Agreements are the cornerstones of this network of international law. The agreements work through their treaty texts, secretariats, governing bodies (often called Conventions of the Parties), and other frameworks to address today’s most pressing environmental issues through international cooperation. Parties to Multilateral Environmental Agreements participate through the governing bodies by reporting back on their obligations and by drafting national plans for implementation.

However, the landscape of international law, and environmental law in particular, is often fragmented. Multilateral Environmental Agreements are largely issue-specific, having arisen in response to a particular environmental threat identified by the international community at a certain point in time—for example the effects of certain substances on depleting the ozone layer, or the effect of international trade in endangered species on biodiversity.

For this reason, a central website for Multilateral Environmental Agreements is essential—not only to compile all the dispersed information in one place, but also to intelligently compare texts, cross-check data and extrapolate trends. The home of this information is InforMEA, the United Nations portal for information on Multilateral Environmental Agreements.

Take the example of the tiny bee. Bees are vitally important to every part of the world’s ecosystem, on which we all depend. An estimated one third of every mouthful of food we eat is a result of bee pollination.

We are losing bees at an alarming rate. The causes are complex and interlinked, ranging from habitat loss from intensive farming and land use change, to the increased spread of parasites and pathogens, the use of chemical pesticides, and climate change. A comprehensive and coherent response to this issue, at the national and international level, requires policymakers to be aware of the existing policies and mechanisms that Multilateral Environmental Agreements have in place with respect to the different drivers and consequences of pollinator loss—for example, the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Plan of Action for the conservation and sustainable use of pollinators, or the associated International Pollinators Initiative.

Policymakers need to understand the way that the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions regulate certain pesticides and insecticides shown to be toxic to bees. It would also help to understand how climate change is a driver of pollinator loss, and how the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement address adaptation measures.

InforMEA is where you can find all this information in a centralized portal, comparable against an agreed set of terms, such as intensive agriculture or bioaccumulation. The group behind InforMEA, including the Multilateral Environmental Agreements, UN Environment Programme, and the European Union, came together last week in Montreux, Switzerland, to celebrate 10 years of InforMEA.  

Since its inception, InforMEA has grown to include over 20 global Multilateral Environmental Agreements secretariats, as well as regional ones, and observers involved in regulating the entire range of environmental issues—from biodiversity to chemicals and waste, climate and atmosphere, land use and agriculture, and marine and freshwater resources.

The portal now provides access to nearly 500 treaties, over 12,000 decisions made by governing bodies, over 9,000 national plans and reports, and a large body of laws, court decisions, and other documents and literature. With 150,000 users so far in 2019, InforMEA has become an essential resource for information on Multilateral Environmental Agreements.

InforMEA also features an e-learning tool that provides users with the opportunity to gain a more comprehensive understanding of Multilateral Environmental Agreements. This resource greatly improves access to knowledge through a collection of over 30 courses on environmental law meant for academic researchers, non-governmental organization staff, governmental policymakers, members of the judiciary, environmental journalists and students. The e-learning platform has 20,000 registered users from 190 countries, of which over 8,000 have obtained a certificate—a much higher completion rate than the average for online courses.

At this past week’s meeting and celebration, the group discussed how to continue this momentum, and to keep pace with the immensity of the international environmental challenges the Multilateral Environmental Agreements seek to address. It was agreed that the path forward must involve harnessing new technologies for connectivity, demonstrating the agreements’ contributions toward the Sustainable Development Goals in achieving “the future we want” by 2030, and engaging younger generations—both their passion for environmental issues and their familiarity and aptitude with digital tools for connectivity. 

As UN Environment Programme’s top lawyer Elizabeth Maruma Mrema put it, “As this group of international treaties secretariats and [UN Environment] has come to share the wealth of our information, we have to be sure to offer the solutions not only of today, but also of tomorrow.”