15 Apr 2019 Blogpost Environmental rights and governance

Expert dialogue on international environmental governance

The expert dialogue on international governance was held on 18 March 2018, in Nairobi, Kenya, based on the International Environmental Governance: Accomplishments and Way Forward report, launched on the same day, providing analysis of reforms taken to date and outlining possibilities to gear up implementation of the Rio+20 outcome document, “The future we want”.

Speakers included:

  • Tony Clark, Senior Adviser, Ministry of the Environment and Energy, Sweden
  • Erik Lundberg, Ambassador of Finland to Kenya
  • Maria Ivanova, Associate Professor
  • Niko Urho, Senior Research Fellow
  • Anna Dubrova, Research Associate, University of Massachusetts Boston
  • Victor Tafur, Adjunct Professor of Law, Pace University/ International Council of Environmental Law
  • Elizabeth Mrema, Director, Law Division, UN Environment Programme

In June 2012, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and saw countries committing to strengthening international environmental governance within the context of the institutional framework for sustainable development. This was done with the expectation of promoting a balanced integration of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development as well as coordination within the United Nations system.

The systematic efforts to reform the system of international environmental governance centred on improving the coherence, coordination, and effectiveness of the institutional system for global environmental governance, both through reforms of the governance, financing, and functioning of UN Environment, and through enhancing synergies in the operations of the various multilateral environmental agreements (Urho et al, 2019 pg. 11).

Following the Rio+20 discussions, the United Nations Environment Assembly was the most significant governance reform to have been approved and implemented. As indicated in the report, the Assembly has had major impacts on how governments, non-governmental organizations, civil society and private institutions make coherent decisions in support of environmental conservation. Through the Assembly, there has been increased participation by national governments, multilateral bodies and stakeholders, thus enhancing UN Environment’s visibility and legitimacy of decision-making, but at the cost of increased politicization.

As the main environmental coordinating body of the United Nations on environmental issues, UN Environment works with other UN agencies through the Environment Management Group, which has 51 members from multilateral bodies. The Group developed a system-wide framework of strategies on environment and seeks to play a core role in delivery of the Agenda 2030.

Expert Dialogue

The report highlighted the following challenges that must be overcome in order to achieve coherent implementation of international environmental governance:

More clarification is needed on the role, status and optimal number of resolutions to increase their impact. Guidance is also needed at national levels to support effective implementation of the policies nationally. The Committee of Permanent Representatives which has been formed to provide increased engagement of capital-based representatives has promoted frequent open-ended sessions to facilitate intersessional work, however, their role needs further clarification.

Environmental reforms borne out of the Environmental Management Group agendas have been largely superficial, making coherence and coordination in their implementation a challenge. More insights and recommendations by the Environmental Management Group are needed to strengthen its role and influence.

Global environmental assessments do provide important inputs for international negotiations. However, they make inadequate links across themes and disciplines, and furthermore lack a holistic place-based overview of the state of trends and future goals. In order to increase the relevance, utility, and impact of the assessments, governments should work more with social science and humanities scholars.

UN Environment has been strengthening its support to countries working towards achieving Principle 10 by investing more in communication, leading to increased visibility and outreach of the organization’s products and services. However, more emphasis on institutional strengthening should be placed not only on the grassroots level, but also on the national levels, to enable countries to improve on their own communication capacity.

Through its Montevideo Programme for Development and Periodic Review of Environmental law, UN Environment is encouraged to develop a dynamic platform which will ardently monitor and address the identified gaps and deficiencies, leading to improved strategies to restore sound environmental management.

For more information, please contact: Mamadou.Kane[at]un.org I Hyun.Sung[at]un.org I Niamh.brannigan[at]un.org I Catherine.Abuto[at]un.org.