Center Hosts Panel Discussion on Global Environmental Governance
Center News and Events
21 June 2007
MR. BENITO JIMENEZ
Speaking on behalf of Ambassador Claude Heller, Co-Chair of the informal consultative process of the General Assembly on the institutional framework for the United Nations’ environmental activities, Mr. Benito Jimenez provided background on the informal consultations and presented the Co-Chairs Options Paper, originally circulated to Member States on 14 June 2007.
Recalling the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document which established a need for system-wide coherence, including environmental activities, the President of the 60th General Assembly, Ambassador Jan Eliasson decided to convene an informal consultative process, appointing Ambassador Enrique Berruga of Mexico and Ambassador Peter Maurer of Switzerland as facilitators. Ambassador Berruga was later replaced by Ambassador Claude Heller. These Co-Chairs conducted their meetings in New York but also articipated in environmental meetings held in Geneva and Nairobi. The work they have done, leading up to the Options Paper, has included providing delegations with broad questions about issues mentioned in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, as well as collecting key findings from delegations and categorizing the proposals received on how to improve international environmental governance (IEG).
The proposals received on how to improve IEG can be streamlined into two main approaches:
The consultations resulted in the Options Paper, presented to the Membership on 14 June 2007.
Contained within the paper are principle, premises, and conditions which have been repeatedly mentioned by delegations in order to strengthen IEG, including:
With these sentiments in mind, Mr Jimenez explained that the paper proposes seven building blocks for strengthening IEG - no hierarchical order is intended:
Mr. Jimenez continued to explain that the paper also deals with the broader transformation of IEG which can be classified into two areas:
The Co-Chairs are now waiting for reactions from delegations to the Options Paper. They understand that the document needs to be studied carefully, so there is no rush in having reactions as of yet. They offered to have bilateral meetings with interested delegations during the following weeks, and having informal plenary meetings in early September, still in the 61st session of the GA, in order to take stock of reactions.
Mr. Jimenez concluded by noting that the purpose of this Options Paper is clear: systematize the discussion on international environmental governance. The Options Paper contributes more to the substantive discussion on system-wide coherence and we think it fits nicely in the broader process. What remains pending is to define the course of action, based on the reactions from the Membership.
MR. LAURENT PIC
Mr. Laurent Pic introduced the proposal for the creation of a United Nations Environmental Organization (UNEO), which would have a lead role in expanded responsibilities of the UN in the realm of environmental governance.
He explained that France was conscious of the fact that environmental protection cannot be dealt with only within the national context. It has to be dealt with globally, because threats related to the environment are applicable to all countries around the world. Thus, to be effective, actions need to be taken on a global scale, and not just on the national level. Action needs to be taken collectively, and in this regard France has always taken its initiatives in coordination with her EU partners. It must also be taken at the global level with all members of the international community, and the United Nations is the best place to do it.
France proposes to establish a United Nations Environmental Organization on the basis of the current UNEP structure, not because of an infatuation with institutional debates, but because of an assessment of all the environmental challenges that the international community is facing today. This assessment, Mr. Pic explained, leads to the conclusion that the current system was not adequately prepared to meet those challenges. This same evaluation surfaced also in the paper published by the Co-Chairs last summer and in the Options Paper introduced by Mr. Jimenez.
First, there is a lack of coherence and authoritative scientific advice available to decision-makers. The case of climate change is emblematic of the necessity to establish a strong pillar to coordinate all the various scientific assessments and advice coming from a plethora of different scientific authorities. For instance, if members of the international community had a strong center of scientific authority, States would not have taken all this time to come to recognize the gravity and urgency of the problem of climate change, as was accepted most recently by the G8 conference.
There is also the problem of consistency between the scientific advice in the various areas of the environment and the related difficulties for decision-makers to make decisions. For instance, when States are formulating policies to fight desertification, the actions taken may have an impact on the preservation of water resources and risk to promote policies that are not overall consistent with environmental protection. Hence, the international community needs an authority to guide decision-makers in producing and delivering consistent policies across the board. Another issue related to the importance of scientific advice is the current lack of early warning mechanisms.
Another substantial problem is the overall lack of coordination and the complexity of the system. Starting from the UN system itself, UNEP is only one of the numerous players dealing with environmental protection. It is not even the strongest player because it lacks sustainable financing, as well as authority. There are more than a dozen entities within the UN system which are playing a role in the environment in operational activities, such as UNDP for example. Moreover, all those activities are not well coordinated because the current mechanism, called the Environment Management Group (EMG), is not provided with sufficient authority to fulfill the role it has been given in an efficient way.
A further problem is the coordination of internationally agreed commitments on the environment. The main international commitments are set within a series of agreements, which are being negotiated by Member States, and present various types of memberships. These commitments involve monitoring and implementation, as well as engagement in conferences of the parties, which require regular meetings and monitoring roles for participating States. There are around five hundred of them, involving a great number of meetings for delegations to follow. This is certainly a big challenge for developing countries, as their delegations often lack the capacity to cope with all those meetings. At the same time, they must also engage in trying to implement the commitments that come as a result of those agreements. The fact that there is no coordination amongst those agreements must also be considered. Finally, there is also the problem of coordination with financial mechanisms and in particular the recently developed environment fund, which is independent from any kind of guidance coming from the UN system.
Overall, the environmental pillar in the UN system is very weak and lacks central authority to provide orientation to decision-makers to create consistent policies.
Funding, as already mentioned, is another great weakness. The budget of UNEP is very small and dependent on voluntary contributions. There are indications that a lot of money is made available for environmental activities, but it is difficult to establish what this money is used for, and globally there is no clear picture of that. As mentioned earlier, there is also the problem of how to use the funds of the Global Environmental Fund (GEF) that are now being used on the basis of proposals for projects made by Member States, and on which there is no real orientation or guidelines from an authority in the system.
All these different weaknesses contribute in creating a lack of implementation of commitments taken by Member States and result in insufficient protection of the environment overall, which is preventing the international community from coping with the problems, as has become evident now with climate change.
Finally, there is also the issue of partnership. We cannot really discuss environmental protection without involving the private sector or the representatives of civil society, and that is a problem which we need to address. We will really be able to fight against environmental degradation if we focus citizens through representatives of civil society, and if we also have on board citizens through the private sector.
As to the process of how to strengthen IEG, the government of France promoted discussions with a few Member States here in New York. Twenty-six Member States came together to work on the assessment of the situation. The discussions bore the same conclusions that were drawn later during the consultations process and are illustrated also in the Options Paper.
The initiative taken by France’s former President, Jacques Chirac, in Paris in February 2007 which was called “Citizens of the Earth,” was meant to create some political impetus for the consultations in New York. In fact, the Co-Chairs themselves have mentioned the need for States to have a broader political discussion with the involvement of all concerned parties. The Paris Conference aimed at involving not only Ministries of Foreign Affairs, but also the Ministries of the Environment of all Member States. Because there also needs to be discussion in each Member States on how to proceed on those issues, the political momentum France tried to build was directed at stimulating that kind of discussion.
During the Paris conference the French government gathered a certain number of people around the table, not invited only as representatives of their countries, but also on a personal basis. That led to the creation of the ‘Friends of UNEO.’ The ‘Friends of UNEO’ does not represent an intention to negotiate something outside of the UN, because France and the ‘Friends of UNEO’ do not want to work outside the UN. France is very conscious that any decisions on the upgrading of the IEG structure can only be done at the United Nations and through the processes that have already been established by the General Assembly. The ‘Friends of UNEO’ group serves only to promote discussions on a new UNEO, but the main discussion is definitely in New York. As to the question that there are indeed various parallel processes on how to strengthen IEG, including the process related to the recommendations contained in the Report of the High-level Panel on System-wide Coherence, Mr. Pic noted that ultimately there is only one process: it is the process that will lead to substantive results. Without a doubt, the only way to strengthen international environmental governance is through decisions taken by the GA.
Mr. Pic went ahead to describe what France and her EU partners mean by a UNEO. The basic principles in mind, contained in a paper released by the EU are the following:
With regards to the question of how the reform of global environmental governance relates to the fight against climate change, Mr. Pic remarked that there is a view of complementarity between strengthening global environmental governance and the fight against climate change. If the international community wants to come together and fight climate change, then international mechanisms should be organized in a way that it can do so effectively. The reflection on governance must reflect the fight against climate change.
Another question related to the issue of how UNEO relates to sustainable development. There is a lot of fear that creating a stronger environmental pillar would separate environmental issues from the other two pillars of sustainable development. This is not at all what France and her partners have in mind. On the contrary Mr Pic observed, if the international community wants the three pillars of sustainable development (economic growth, ecological balance and social progress) to work in a consistent manner it is essential to strengthen the environmental pillar. Then States also need to think about how to strengthen sustainable development within the UN system. In that respect, EU Member States are already considering how to strengthen the mandate of the Commission for Sustainable Development.
MS. HILARY FRENCH
Hilary French suggested that she might contribute to the conversation on how to strengthen global environmental governance with a little bit of historical perspective.
Twelve years ago, Ms. French published a paper for Worldwatch called “Partnerships for the Planet – An Environmental Agenda for the UN.” Among the things it suggested was that UNEP be transformed into a UN Specialized Agency. It was difficult to imagine then that such a suggestion would go as far as it has come already, with the government of France putting it so strongly on its agenda, and in formal discussions ongoing in the General Assembly on the broader question of how to strengthen international environmental governance. To some extent, even though we have not achieved much yet, we have certainly advanced from where we were 12 years ago.
Ms. French also did not know 12 years ago that she would now be working within the system as an advisor to UNEP, dividing time between Worldwatch and UNEP. She noted that at the panel she spoke from her personal/Worldwatch perspective and not that of UNEP. However, the experience of working with UNEP in the last five years has given her a deeper understanding of what it would take to turn some of her earlier ideas into reality, noting that “I have much more of a sense now of what some of the real hurdles are than I did 12 years ago.” In particular, she emphasized that it is far easier to say that something needs to be done than actually make it happen.
Ms. French noted today’s system of international environmental governance has to some extent become a victim of its own success. There have been so many agreements and institutions created in the last 20 years that we now face the challenge of how to make them work together, ergo the issue of coordination and coherence discussed during today’s panel.
It should be recognized that quite a bit has been done over the past 15 years, since the Rio Earth Summit. The U.N. Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) was created as a result of the Rio Earth Summit, and the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) was at that stage just a pilot project. But, while on one level we made a substantial amount of progress, particularly through the rapid growth in the number of agreements and institutions, we also have to recognize that the state of the environment itself continues to deteriorate. There is something of a disconnect between the growth in the number of institutions and deteriorating biological conditions on the ground.
That reality is evoked well in the book on Global Environmental Governance published by the Center for UN Reform. In the introduction to the book, Mohamed El-Ashry notes that “…as the evidence for environmental degradation becomes more convincing, the political will for action becomes weaker or lacking.” The paradox is that the problems are growing worse and an increasing number of people are worrying about them, but at the same time the political steps required to turn around these negative trends are not being taken. It is this predicament that has led France and other governments to suggest that the time has come for an institutional redesign.
Institutional reforms may well help improve the situation, but we also have to recognize that we have reached the difficult phase when the hard work needs to be done. It is much easier to create new treaties or institutions than it is to determine how to actually make them function effectively.
We have to recognize that we are at a fundamentally different place than we were 15 years ago when many of us gathered in Rio for the Earth Summit. At that time we were a bit naïve about how difficult it would be to reverse the powerful trends of global environmental degradation – climate change, the loss of biological diversity, water scarcity, land degradation – etc. In Rio, we may have been overly optimistic that by creating new treaties, we would solve the underlying problems they were designed to address. Perhaps what we failed to sufficiently take account of is that to fight each of these problems successfully involves confronting a whole set of difficult political realities around the world. In particular, the difficulties appear when trying to implement international environmental agreements domestically because then you are up against vested interest, from business interests to those of individuals who do not want to change the way they live their lives, to national politicians afraid of making risky political moves.
Thus, we need to consider how international agreements can be created in a manner that strengthens the hand of progressive domestic political forces. Towards that end, some interesting developments are beginning to take place. One example is the rapid growth of carbon markets, which are closely linked with provisions of the Kyoto Protocol. As a result, the rapid growth of carbon trading is creating a business interest that favors strengthening international climate commitments, as people in this line of business realize that they are not going to be able to continue to make money off of carbon trading if the terms of the Kyoto Protocol are not strengthened. It is political factors such as these that we are going to have to work with in order to successfully reverse today’s deteriorating environmental trends.
By pointing at all these questions, she does not mean to say that she does not believe in institutional reform. On the contrary, “I struggle on a day-to-day basis to make the UN system deliver.” It is indeed critically important that we learn how to make international institutions in the environmental field function efficiently and effectively so that they can deliver the kind of results that we are looking towards them to provide. In that regard, there is some good news, as slowly but surely there are some changes beginning to happen. UNEP for example has a new dynamic executive director with a background in civil society. This is an unusual profile for the executive director of a major UN institution. He is taking seriously the question of how UNEP can best work with other actors, such as civil society and the private sector, and also focusing on some of the internal reforms needed to make the organization function better. He is also promoting cooperation greater cooperation between UNEP and other UN agencies, including UNDP. There are also reform-minded leaders in other key international institutions. For instance, Monique Barbut, who was previously with UNEP, is now the CEO of the Global Environment Facility, where she has already launched substantial reforms.
These changes are taking place against the backdrop of growing support among governments for far-reaching reform efforts such as the French proposal to transform UNEP into a World Environment Organization. Finally, growing public calls for serious action to address global environmental threats are contributing to the growing pressure on the international system to deliver results. This governmental and public drive for change, together with the nitty-gritty internal changes that are already beginning to be put in place, should pave the way for more far-reaching changes to the international environmental architecture in the years ahead.
Following Ms. French’s presentation, one audience member raised the question of how best to involve civil society in the environmental work of the UN system. In replying, she referred to Bill Pace’s observation that the goal should not be for NGOs to be involved in the decision-making process but instead for them to have a substantial role in providing input to better inform intergovernmental decision-making. Ms. French concurred with this sentiment. Civil society should not try to emulate governments, but to make sure that it has access to the system so that civil society’s views and ideas can be integrated into the conversation. She noted that finding a way to structure NGO involvement in intergovernmental decision-making processes is a very complicated issue. This is part of the work Ms. French is doing with UNEP, “I help advise UNEP on how to engage civil society more in its work.” To that end, we have taken a number of important steps to give civil society a more prominent role in UNEP’s activities. For instance during UNEP Annual Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Nairobi this past February, civil society groups had the opportunity to participate in round table discussions with the Ministers, who could then take their input into account in preparing the Chair’s summary of the deliberations. As a general matter, the question of how to structure NGO participation is a very complicated one as governmental and international institutions come quickly to the conclusion that you cannot have every NGO sitting at the table, just as you cannot have every citizen sitting at the table, which is why we have developed representational forms of government. One of the outcomes of the Rio Earth Summit was the recognition of the role of the 9 majors groups [footnote: The Rio Earth Summit recognized the importance of the following nongovernmental sectors in implementing sustainable development women; children and youths; indigenous peoples; NGOs; local authorities; trade unions; business and industry; science and technology; and farmers], a concept that many of you may be familiar with. NGOs are one of the major groups. Currently, we are thinking about how to build on that in the UNEP process as well.