Advisory Group on International Environment Governance

Advisory Group on International Environment Governance

Meeting Summary

18 February 2011

UNEP Offices, Nairobi

. . .

III. Joint Meeting with the Major Group and Stakeholders Facilitating Committee

The Major Groups and Stakeholders Advisory Group on International Environmental Governance was created in response to decision SS.XI/1 on International Environmental Governance of the 11th Special Session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum calling for input from civil society from all regions to the intergovernmental consultations on the topic. The Advisory Group was established in July 2010 and the Major Group and Stakeholder Facilitating Committee at UNEP selected thirty members – one representative and one alternate from each of the nine major groups and each of the six UN regions.

The Advisory Group met for the first time in full membership on 18 February 2011, just before the 26th UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum. In the months before, at the request of UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner, the Advisory Group produced an information document for the Governing Council – UNEP/GC.26/INF/19.

During the Advisory Group meeting, members recognized several challenges to date, including the lack of precedents for Advisory Group processes, and the difficulty of producing a joint document without having met in person. In the course of the discussion, several other issues emerged:

  • Need for clarity that the Advisory Group speaks as experts on international environmental governance, not as representatives of major groups or regions. Members of the Advisory Group should speak as individual experts, legitimized by their range of experience and knowledge in international environmental governance. We should be inclusive and look for islands of convergence, not full consensus, reflecting the diversity of major groups and regions without representing them.
  • Need for a clear timeline of deadlines in order to allow sufficient time to produce quality documents. This includes building in the time to discuss and revise any documents prior to submitting them to official processes.
  • Need for administrative support for the co-chairs, particularly in coordinating the Advisory Group’s communications and for a communications platform for the Advisory Group.

  • Need for increased communication between the Advisory Group and the UNEP Major Group and Stakeholders Facilitating Committee in order to facilitate more communication with constituents on matters of international environmental governance. The Advisory Group does not have the capacity to reach out to major groups and regions directly.

Members also acknowledged that the quality of the Advisory Group’s work is key to its impact. They noted, however, that attaining full consensus on all issues within the Advisory Group is a significant challenge to producing high-quality work because of the risk of arriving at the “lowest common denominator.” It was proposed that providing targeted analysis of the international environmental governance reform options currently under negotiation may be one useful service and that the Advisory Group might be able to find islands of consensus within each of the options.

IV. Organization of the Advisory Group

Members commended Arthur Dahl and Negusu Aklilu, co-coordinators of the Advisory Group, for their significant work in producing the information document. Reactions to the Advisory Group process so far and ideas for the process going forward largely focused on the ways to better organize communications and reduce the number of emails between Advisory Group members. It was reiterated that having an Advisory Group meeting at the beginning of the process could have prevented some organizational challenges.  The co-coordinators identified a lack of appropriate response to emails and lack of respect for deadlines as their largest frustrations.

Regarding email communications, it was proposed that the list-serv emails utilize categorical headings, which would help members prioritize the order in which they are read. It may also be useful to have telephone/skype calls, online wikis, and other mechanisms for communicating and sharing drafts of documents.

It was agreed that organizing the group into smaller thematic or regional groups would be useful.  Because the themes have not yet been identified, regional groupings were proposed as a first step. Offers were made to coordinate regional meetings in North America, Asia-Pacific, Europe, and Africa. Additionally, because many members travel to the same conferences and events, many felt it would be useful to have a shared calendar. This could facilitate thematic-based sub-groups.

Many Advisory Group members thought that the Advisory Group should also comment on Sustainable Development Governance. The general view was that while the topic should not be the primary focus of the Advisory Group, it is important to consider the broader institutional arrangements for sustainable development and the way that international environmental governance relates to them.

Regarding fundraising, several individuals felt that if the Advisory Group could identify its unique “value added proposition,” a two- to three-year business plan, and a mechanism to guarantee quality work, it would be possible to find fiscal sponsorship from both governments and foundations.

Since the membership in the Advisory Group is the responsibility of the MGS Facilitating Committee, it should consider any needed adjustments in membership, including replacement of inactive members.

V. Meeting with the UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner

Achim Steiner used the metaphor of a triple helix to describe the relationship of the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. He encouraged the Advisory Group to consider international environmental governance in the context of the institutional arrangements for sustainable development. He emphasized the strong linkage between international environmental governance and the green economy and that the two issues should not be viewed as silos. Strengthening the relevance of international environmental governance for the green economy could be a way to gain the attention of the General Assembly and empower Environment Ministers.

Achim Steiner suggested that the value of the Advisory Group is to propose how to strengthen international environmental governance in order to create real change. Legislation alone is an insufficient tool for environmental protection and additional “levers of change” need to be identified. He identified accountability and legitimacy as critical, as well as translating international environmental governance into an idea that people can care about. Relating international environmental governance to the green economy may provide such grounding.

Achim Steiner asked specifically that the Advisory Group help him “understand the problems and the opportunities for progress moving forward,” in order to develop a new narrative for international environmental governance that is related to peoples’ concerns and can mobilize action. He highlighted the need to address issues of national sovereignty and its constraints when analyzing international environmental governance reform options. He is convinced that young people need to be mobilized to participate in a process that is meaningful and that will not waste their time.

Achim Steiner legitimized the ability of the Advisory Group to participate in the Rio 2012 preparatory process by noting that several Advisory Group members are participating in panels and round tables. He assured the Advisory Group that it has “every standing” at the Governing Council. Bradnee Chambers echoed that UNEP will try to open as many doors as possible for the Advisory Group, provided it presents relevant and quality inputs. Bradnee Chambers also emphasized the concrete need for economic and legal analysis of the international environmental governance reform options.

Reactions to the Meeting with Achim Steiner

Members welcomed the clear statement of support from Achim Steiner for the Advisory Group if it could produce relevant and quality work. It was also noted that he placed a clear emphasis on international environmental governance as the focus, but reaffirmed the independence of the Advisory Group to set its own agenda in terms of the themes. Many Advisory Group members expressed that they were much more comfortable with their mandate after hearing him speak. It was also acknowledged that the window between March 2011 and November 2011 will be most opportune to provide meaningful input into the Rio 2012 process.

It was proposed that one way to influence the Rio 2012 process would be to utilize the questionnaire provided by the Rio 2012 preparatory process, and to submit answers as a group. The Advisory Group could either answer all of the questions in the chapter on international environmental governance, or choose several questions to answer very thoroughly.

Regarding the topics on which members felt Achim Steiner was seeking advice, there were several understandings. Many felt that Achim Steiner was asking for an analysis of the options, translated into language that is understandable by civil society. Some felt that he focused on the need to strengthen the Environment Ministers’ authority within their own countries. Some proposed that strengthening Environmental Ministers’ authority could be accomplished by incorporating the environment, economy, and social dimensions of sustainable development into the international environmental governance structure.

VI. Selection of Substantive Themes for Future Advisory Group Work

As summarized by Arthur Dahl (co-coordinator of the Advisory Group), the key themes for future work that emerged were:

  • Responding to the questionnaire from UN DESA on inputs to Rio 2012 process
  • Advantages and disadvantages of a World Environment Organization and other options. Why have things failed? What difference would the options make? Role of Environmental and other ministers. Centralized versus diffuse approach to international environmental governance
  • International environmental governance for areas beyond national sovereignty, global commons (geoengineering, deep sea mining, ocean fisheries), might include technology assessment and monitoring
  • Advantages of international environmental governance for developing countries and in particular for African countries
  • Coupling international environmental governance and the green economy
  • Integrating international environmental governance into global governance, institutional arrangements for sustainable development
  • Link between expert/scientific advice and decision-making. How does it work? What else is needed?
  • Constructing a Civil Society toolkit, to include topics such as:
    • Transparency, access to information, public participation
    • Scientific advisory processes (including social science, indigenous and local knowledge)
    • Accountability, environmental liability
    • Participation in preparatory and deliberative processes
    • Decision-making through inclusion in national delegations
    • Financial assistance for disadvantaged organizations and constituencies
    • Access to complaint procedures, legal remedies and dispute settlement mechanisms
    • Ethical and moral dimensions and principles
    • Links to educational processes, media and capacity building organizations

These thematic topics are still subject to further definition and prioritization by the Advisory Group.

In prioritizing the options, both timeliness and interest of members should be taken into account. Given that the list is long and topics diverse, it was proposed that individuals think about to which topics they would personally like to contribute, and for which topics they would take responsibility for producing quality documents. Such a process could eliminate some of the themes, in addition to ensuring accountability. It was also proposed that short papers of 1-2 pages could be used to discuss some topics for which there is not great expertise, but which the Advisory Group should still address.

Many recognized that other individuals and organizations within civil society are already discussing international environmental governance topics that were not mentioned by the Advisory Group. Regional consultation with such individuals and groups could help to elucidate topics with which the Advisory Group should engage, or other individuals who should be brought into the Advisory Group process.

It was proposed that this group look at alternative ways to bring the international environmental governance reform issues to popular attention, such as through print publications, journals, a web site, and multimedia outlets.

VII. Work Plan and Timetable for the Advisory Group

All parties expressed a desire for a clear timetable of deliverables for the Advisory Group, drafted in consultation with the timeline of the Rio 2012 preparation process, and the timeline of the Governing Council’s deliverables.

VIII. Planning for Advisory Group Participation in the Global Major Groups Stakeholder Forum and the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum

Key points about the Advisory Group to convey to the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum were noted. In summary, the Advisory Group is an independent body comprised of individuals with various perspectives and levels of expertise in international environmental governance, which strives to attain a high level of analytical rigor. When speaking to the Governing Council, individuals should emphasize that they are speaking as individuals, not for a particular constituency, nor as a representative of the Advisory Group. It would, however, be appropriate to speak about one’s personal observations of and experiences with the Advisory Group process.

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