News

UNEP Holds Discussion on Nairobi-Helsinki Outcome

3 June 2011: The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) held a discussion of the topic “International environmental governance in the context of the discussions on the institutional framework for sustainable development.” UNEP provided information on the Nairobi-Helsinki Outcome and engaged in discussion with representatives of UN member States and international organizations.

The event, held at UN Headquarters in New York, US, on 3 June 2011, was chaired by the Permanent Representatives of Spain and Uruguay. The co-Chairs noted that the purpose of the meeting was to provide information and promote dialogue on the agreements of the 26th Session of UNEP's Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC/GMEF), and enable States to consider: options for strengthening the environmental dimension of sustainable development, and how they could contribute, therefore, to strengthen the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development (IFSD), one of the themes of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20).

Angela Cropper, UNEP Special Adviser to the Executive Director of UNEP, discussed previous developments on international environmental governance (IEG), including: the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document's call for strengthened IEG coordination; the UN General Assembly's (UNGA) consultation process to follow up on this call, and its resulting options paper; and the UNEP Governing Council's subsequent convening of a ministerial “Consultative Group,” which identified five options for strengthening IEG. The options – collectively known as the “Nairobi-Helsinki Outcome” – were welcomed by the GC/GMEF in February 2011, and the March 2011 session of the UNCSD Preparatory Committee was invited to “initiate a full analysis of the financial, structural and legal implications and comparative advantages” of the five options. UNEP's Executive Director was requested to organize informal meetings in New York on the Outcome, in the context of IFSD discussions. Cropper noted that while States agree on the need to strengthen IEG, how to do so, and how to integrate it with the social and economic dimensions of sustainable development remain to be addressed by the UNCSD preparatory process.

Bradnee Chambers, UNEP, discussed the outcomes of the Nairobi-Helsinki process, noting that two of the five options deal with IEG while the other three focus more broadly on sustainable development. The two IEG options identified are: establishing a specialized agency such as a world environment organization (WEO); and enhancing UNEP. Chambers outlined the differences between the two options, including that the WEO would be treaty-based and have greater autonomy, while an enhanced UNEP – becoming the UN Environment Organization (UNEO) – would be subsidiary to the UNGA. It therefore would have universal membership immediately. Chambers noted that both scenarios are compatible – not competitive – with IFSD and would support IFSD by reducing “mission creep” and balancing the pillars.

Professor Ole Kristian Fauchald discussed the relationship of UNEP to multilateral environment agreements (MEAs), and Professor A.H. Zakri discussed experiences in capacity building and implementation at the country-level, emphasizing the need for inclusiveness and transparency of any reformed IEG model.

During the discussion session, delegations differed over whether UNEP's mandate from the GC had been to facilitate discussion on all five options in the Nairobi-Helsinki Outcome, or only those specifically related to IEG. A related disagreement was whether other UN system entities had a facilitating role to play in the IFSD discussions leading to the UNCSD.

Several speakers stressed the need for discussions to be more “balanced” by covering all five options in the Nairobi-Helsinki outcome, not only the IEG-specific options. Some noted that the mandate from the UNEP GC was to review all of the options, including to: establish a new umbrella organization for sustainable development; and reform the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD).

But others noted that the present process was an intergovernmental one, with one permanent representative saying UNEP had received “mixed signals” from States and was playing its requested role, while other parts of the UN system, such as agencies with the task of facilitating the social and economic pillars, still needed to bring their work to the intergovernmental process in order to legitimately participate in the UNCSD process. Others echoed the call for involvement by other parts of the UN system in the discussions.

Delegates disagreed on whether additional meetings on this topic would be beneficial. With one State asserting that UNEP had not fulfilled its mandate with the present meeting and should not organize further meetings, others suggested the meeting had been useful and called for further opportunities to discuss the other options.

Delegations also emphasized the need to shift focus from the long-standing IEG process to the upcoming UNCSD and its IFSD theme. In the lead up to the UNCSD, said one, States need to “identify how the voice on IEG hooks up with the IFSD voice.”

Participants also discussed the report currently being prepared by "ECESA Plus" (the Executive Committee of Economic and Social Affairs (ECESA), plus the UN Development Group (UNDG) and Environment Management Group (EMG)) on IEG and other IFSD reform options, which will provide a legal, financial, and structural analysis of each option. A representative of the UNCSD Secretariat said Conference Secretary-General Sha Zukang had requested ECESA Plus, as the forum for all UN agencies to discuss the UNCSD and make joint contributions to the process, to prepare the information paper for States. In addition to the Nairobi-Helsinki Outcome's five options, the paper also will reflect suggestions from other agencies and States, he said. ECESA Plus is expected to release an outline by mid-June 2011 and a first draft by mid-July.

Regarding the balance among the three pillars of sustainable development, one delegation challenged the view that the environmental pillar was weaker than the economic and social pillars. Chambers countered that the comment reflected “unorthodox thinking,” because studies showed numerous measures by which the economic and social pillars are stronger.

Discussion also covered the importance of implementation and the impacts of inadequate financing, and the relationship between IEG and green economy. Chambers said this would be the subject of a forthcoming UNEP report. [IISD RS Sources]