Basic Info
What's New

- Feature Story
- Other Stories
- News Archive

Preperatory Process
Major Groups
Media Info
Sustainable Development In Action
Conatact Us
Joahannesburg Summit 2002
What's New

Small but Forward Steps Taken at Cartagena to Bolster International Environmental Governance

15 February 2002– The last decade has seen a major proliferation in the number of legal conventions, treaties and pacts-close to 500 by some counts-aimed at protecting everything from the climate and the ozone layer to fish stocks and endangered species. Yet the growth of this field has not shown significant results globally in reversing environmental degradation, a fact not lost on the ministers and delegates from 120 countries who met in Cartagena, Colombia, at the Global Ministerial Environment Forum that works to chart policy for the United Nations Environment Programme.

With delegations holding widely differing views for assembling an effective system for promoting international environmental governance, the Cartagena ministerial meeting, held from 13 to 15 February, did not result in a major departure from present practice, but yielded several important decisions that could ultimately result in increased funding for UNEP and a more coherent and effective approach to the problem.

The results of the meeting will contribute to the process leading up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development that will be held in Johannesburg this August. The Summit is expected to produce renewed commitment and new initiatives to promote economic growth and social well-being while protecting the environment.

Many developing countries, who have felt that the resources promised by the richer countries for sustainable development have not been forthcoming, are wary of creating a new environmental super-agency that could ultimately have the power to invoke punitive measures against countries that do not comply with environmental standards.

Developed countries, such as the United States, are also cautious of establishing an intergovernmental body with jurisdiction that could cut across and potentially conflict with other decision-making frameworks. The European Union, noting a lack of coherence in the present system, has advocated greater streamlining.

The decisions agreed to in Cartagena could pave the way toward greater coordination, monitoring and enforcement of the international environmental treaties. Countries agreed that the ministerial Forum, which now meets on an annual basis, should help strengthen the relationship among the various treaty bodies, which all have different members and governing rules. The Forum will not have any legal authority over the treaty organizations.

But at the Forum, which makes policy decisions for UNEP, the ministers also agreed that they must do more to inject the environmental dimension into discussions in other fields, such as trade and finance. There were recommendations to involve citizen groups and business in its own decision-making process, and to transmit the positions of these groups to other intergovernmental decision-making bodies. And in a major change for UNEP, which is normally tackles environment issues at the global policy level, the ministers recommended that the agency work at the country level with the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations Development Programme to build capacity in developing countries. They also recommended that UNEP play a strong role at the regional level.

In one of the potentially more far-reaching moves, the ministers agreed to establish an intergovernmental panel on global environmental change that would monitor and assess emerging patterns that must be addressed from a world perspective. Although the precise mandate and make-up of the panel will still have to be decided at a future ministerial meeting, it was determined that there would have to be effective participation on the part of developing countries in the work of the panel.

Adnan Amin, Director of UNEP's New York Office on Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, said this ministerial decision represents "a significant advance" that could help streamline the global approach to environmental problems. He said that the panel, using science-based policy, would look at the interlinkages between issues and recommend actions. "This could be a panel of panels. Without duplicating anything, it would think about the totality of the situation."

Acknowledging that a lack of funding had severely hampered UNEP's ability to meet expectations, the ministers agreed to a number of measures that could increase resources. In contrast to UNEP's current funding, which is obtained mainly through voluntary contributions from governments, the new system suggests a payment scale based on a country's economic and financial situation. However, the new system would still be voluntary, as the agreement provides for a number of opt-out clauses. The ministers also called on the UN General Assembly to provide for the full administrative and management costs of UNEP out of the UN's regular budget, a move that would require the General Assembly's approval. The new funding practices will be reviewed in two years.

The Cartagena meeting was the third time that the Forum has addressed the environmental governance issue. The decisions reached there will be presented to the next preparatory committee meeting for the Johannesburg Summit, starting on 25 March in New York, where delegations will discuss, among other issues, an international framework for governance issues that are necessary to promote sustainable development.

{short description of image}

FAQs | Site Map| contact us

Copyright © United Nations
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Division for Sustainable Development
Comments and suggestions
24 August 2006