Friday, March 1, 2013

UNEP’s Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum highlights a way forward after Rio

By Kimbowa Richard, Regional Coordinator (LVEMPII CS Watch Project c/o Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development)

The United Nations Environment Programme’s fourteenth Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum (GMGSF.14) was held from 16th to 17th February 2012 in Nairobi. The GMGSF.14 was in preparation for the twenty seventh session of the Governing Council/ Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC/GMEF) of the UNEP to be from 18th to 22nd February 2013.

The GMGSF.14 aimed to create a platform for Major Groups and Stakeholders and Governments to exchange views on their respective positions and perspectives regarding implementing Rio+20 especially on  commitment to have a strengthened environmental pillar of sustainable development; and implementing a green economy as an important tool for achieving sustainable development.

With the dust from Rio+20 now settled, the time for implementation had now begun. While not everyone was pleased with the results in Rio in June 2012, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development did agree to potentially far-reaching actions to strengthen the environmental agenda, among them a commitment to strengthen UNEP as the leading global environmental authority.

This year’s GMGSF.14 and the Governing Council meeting marked the first test of the international community’s resolve to follow through on this commitment. Appropriately, the meeting was organized around the theme: “Rio+20: From Outcome to Implementation.”

The meeting highlighted opportunities for civil society to engage in implementation of the Rio + 20 Outcome Document: The Future We Want, as well as linking sustainable development to the ongoing Post 2015 development planning.

Opportunity: Para 88 of the Rio + 20 outcome document

Tomoko Nishimoto (UNEP Director, Division of Regional Cooperation) in her opening remarks noted that para 88 of the Rio + 20 outcome document (The Future We Want) that commits Partners to ‘...strengthen the role of UNEP as the leading global environmental authority that sets the global agenda and promoting coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the UN….’, was a historical moment. She added that the expeditious resolution by the Un General Assembly (New York, December 2012) to implement this shows the level of commitment by the international community towards global environmental management.

She noted that this commitment implies universal membership of the Governing Council of Governing Council/ Global Ministerial Environment Forum. Hence the GMGSF.14 was the last one in its present form, as future ones will have universal membership (no limit to geographical boundaries).

From Governing Council to Environmental Assembly
Jürgen Friedrich from UNEP’s Division for Environmental Law and Conventions presented options associated with strengthening of UNEP, including: renaming its Governing Council as an “Environment Assembly” to reflect its universal membership; integrating high-level sessions into the Governing Council; expanding the Bureau; organizing a “Global Conference on the State of the Planet; and the strengthening of intersessional work. Civil Society has the opportunity to participate in agenda setting; policy shaping; and implementation. In this regard the GMGSF.14 put forward a draft set of Principles of Civil Society Participation in UNEP. 

The GC/GMEF  took a decision to change turn itself from a Governing Council to the “UN Environment Assembly of UNEP,”  that in effect reflects the intent of delegates to enhance UNEP’s status. A similar decision was taken to discontinue the GMEF and, instead, convene a high-level segment at the end of each assembly that reflects a desire to confer higher status upon GC decisions. “What we have now is simply a ministerial talk-shop in parallel to where the substantial decisions are taken,” said one delegate as quoted by IISD Reporting Services.

Post 2015 Development planning: How far is the process being owned?
Amina J. Mohammed, Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on Post-2015 Development Planning, briefed the GMGSF.14 participants on the UN work streams towards post-2015. She emphasized the importance of civil society engagement in the post-2015 processes under eleven consultations around themes ranging from health and education to equality, governance, energy, environment, and conflict and security as well as ongoing conferences on inequalities, migration, biodiversity, trade and other issues. 

In the ensuing discussion, participants raised: the possibility of a treaty on human rights and the environment; complementarity of post-2015 processes with national sustainable development strategies; and translating the multilateral process to be relevant for grassroots communities. 

Despite the national level dialogues already scheduled or held in 74 countries, the thematic consultations and an online global conversation through social media, that is supposed to reach very large audiences, the post 2015 Development planning process has not been felt at the sub national levels (for example local authorities) where its ownership is paramount ahead of implementation of the final outcome. 

The relevance of this is the lesson learnt in implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), where a lot of time was spent in the initial years after adoption to raise awareness (in East Africa) instead of right away getting to implementation.

Annual dialogue with UNEP Executive Director
During this session, the UNEP Executive Director - Achim Steiner highlighted that citizens and Governments need one another in addressing the current sustainable development challenges (food, fuel, climate, economic, political, and security crises).

‘Lack of progress, irreconcilable positions should be seen as strength rather than a constraint’, the UNEP Executive Director emphasized in relation to the need for working together at all levels.

Noting rapid progress in implementation of the decision to strengthen UNEP, Steiner encouraged civil society to take advantage of new opportunities for agenda setting, including consideration of how UNEP’s rules of procedure should be rewritten.

Achim Steiner also reiterated that UNEP has the mandate to implement Para 88 (h) of the Rio + 20 Outcome document on ‘..ensuring the active participation of all relevant stakeholders drawing on best practices and models from relevant multilateral institutions and exploring new mechanisms to promote transparency and effective engagement of civil society..’

Among many issues, participants discussed with Steiner the role of UNEP in behavior change; the lack of coherence between international and national levels in seeking access to environmental justice; and concerns over biofuels and forest policy.

Five ongoing processes after the Rio + 20 Conference
A number of processes have been launched after Rio that should be of interest to civil society members and partners, depending on their expertise and interest. These include:

- The 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns (10YFP) as contained in the A/CONF.216/5 document… (paragraph 226, “The Future we Want”; Rio+20 Outcome Document)  The 10YFP is a very concrete and operational outcome of Rio+20:
-   Green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication (para 56 - 74, The Future we Want”; Rio+20 Outcome Document). A new partnership on this has been launched: Partnership for Action on Green Economy, or PAGE, is a response to the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) PAGE will support 30 countries over the next seven years in building national green economy strategies that will generate new jobs and skills, promote clean technologies, and reduce environmental risks and poverty.   
-    Sustainable Development Goals and linkage to the post 2015 development framework with the Open Working Group on the UN general Assembly now constituted and has started work
-    Campaign for People's Goals for Sustainable Development Statement  that is seeking sign ups from more CSOs across the world
-    The People’s Summit outcomes: implementation