11 Sep 2019

Lieu: International Environment House II (7-9 ch. de Balexert)

Organisation: Geneva Environment Network

As the world counts down toward 2022, which marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) at the UN Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm Conference) in June 1972, there is a growing interest among member States and stakeholders in promoting international environmental governance through a more accountable, agile and effective UNEP. In 2012, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) concluded the systematic reform of international environmental governance. These efforts centered on enhancing the form, funding and functions of UNEP and clustering multilateral environmental agreements.

About this Session

An event focusing on the effectiveness of the international environmental governance system, the role played by UNEP and environmental rule of law in addressing major environmental challenges and delivering on the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, took place at the International Environment House on 11 September 2019. The discussion centered around two recently launched reports – International Environmental Governance: Accomplishments and Way Forward, commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers and Environmental Rule of Law: First Global Report by UNEP.


Welcome remarks
Bruno POZZI, Director of UNEP Europe Office (Moderator of the event)
H.E. Amb. Terhi HAKALA, Permanent representative of Finland to the UN Office in Geneva

Presentation of report “International Environmental Governance: Accomplishments and Way Forward”
Maria IVANOVA, Professor
Niko URHO, Senior Research Fellow
Center for Governance and Sustainability, University of Massachusetts
Comments: Sandeep SENGUPTA, Global Coordinator, IUCN Climate Change Portfolio 

Presentation of report “Environment Rule of Law”
Eva DUER, Legal Officer, UNEP Law Division
Comments: Yves LADOR, Geneva Representative, Earthjustice

Discussion, questions and answers
Comment from a Nordic government representative, Mona MEJSEN WESTERGAARD, Ministry of Environment and Food, Denmark

General discussion Wrap up

Closing remarks
Felix WERTLI, Head of the Global Affairs Section, Swiss Federal Office for the Environment


Welcome remarks

Bruno Pozzi, Director of UNEP Europe Office

  • Nordic countries as leaders in international environmental governance
  • Discussion on governance is gaining momentum
  • 50th anniversary as a milestone in where we stand in terms of environmental protection, in identifying the gaps in the governance system

H.E. Ambassador Terhi Hakala, Permanent representative of Finland to the UN Office in Geneva

  • New Finnish government has an ambitious agenda on climate
  • Finland has been a longstanding supporter of global environmental governance: culmination in 2010 Nairobi-Helsinki Outcome that contributed to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development preparatory process (RIO+20)
  • Reform of international environmental governance concluded at RIO+20: strengthen UNEP and cooperation among IO
  • The report is an analysis of the reforms of environmental governance and the possibilities to gear up implementation
  • UNEA is gaining popularity and recognition

Presentation of report “International Environmental Governance: Accomplishments and Way Forward”

Maria Ivanova, Professor, and Niko Urho, Senior Research Fellow, Center for Governance and Sustainability, University of Massachusetts

  • Nordic Council leadership in global environmental governance
  • No assessment of progress after RIO+20


  • United Nations Environment Assembly – participations level have grown dramatically as visibility and legitimacy
  • Follow-up of resolutions is not clear
  • Disconnected from science – no scientific voice in UNEA
  • Link to Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) is vague
  • Better consider the role of ministers
  • Committee of Permanent Representatives and OECPR – annual sub-committee meeting that accommodates better members without a permanent representation
  • Need for clarification of the roles of the bodies


  • A lot of misconceptions: arguments to make UNEP a specialized agency so that it would have more funding, but programmes within the UN have the most funding
  • Overall funding of UNEP has increased by 40%
  • 68% of the funding is earmarked funding (that means that donor governments decide how the funds are allocated)
  • Environment Fund is decreasing
  • Donor base is limited and decreasing (92 contributors in 2017 and 86 contributors in 2018, corresponding to 48% and 45% of UN member states respectively)
  • Over 90% of the Environment Fund comes from 15 donors – has been the case for much of UNEP’s history


  • Environment Management Group: not yet been evaluated
  • Science-policy interface: UNEA institutionally disconnected to science – published GEO, but need for more accuracy – established a science-policy business Forum
  • Environmental information: invested in communication, developed portals like InforMEA
  • Regional presence: 5 sub-regional offices to help national policies, but regional offices are not strong enough
  • Capacity building: has been incorporated in subprograms, but need to strengthen cooperation with UN agencies
  • Stakeholder accreditation: increase in participation, but no formal rules on stakeholder engagements

Synergies with MEAs

  • How do the conventions cooperate and coordinate among themselves?
  • Chemicals and Health cluster: BRS Conventions – success story, merging their administrative sections, but Minamata Convention not included
  • Biodiversity cluster: carried out at national level, no assessment of progress on biodiversity protection

Way forward

  • Intersessional review of UNEP launched at UNEA4
  • Stocholm+50 mandates by UNEA4


Sandeep Sengupta, Global Coordinator, IUCN Climate Change Portfolio

  • Strong relationship between IUCN and UNEP
  • Report give a detailed analysis of the reforms undertaken to improve the state of international environmental governance
  • “UNEP belongs to all of us. Anything that we collectively do to strengthen its mandate and functions will help to secure the well-being of the common home that we all call “Planet Earth””
  • Wider context of environmental governance
    • Environmental threats facing the planet
    • IPCC reports – far from optimistic outlook
    • Recent successes – Paris Agreement
    • Fragile environmental governance, fragmented in different silos
    • Many other international environmental governance regimes, processes and institutions that are all there, which need to considered
    • Need to be mindful of the shifts in economic and geopolitical influence
  • Environmental problems are societal problems and require societal solutions
  • Key question: how do we mobilize civil society to better protect our planet?

Presentation of report “Environment Rule of Law”

Eva Duer, Legal Officer, UNEP Law Division

  • Goals: identify the meaning and importance of environmental rule of law, highlight the trends, provide benchmarks, illustrate approaches that have strengthened environmental rule of law, identify measures that can strengthen further environmental rule of law
  • Distinction between environmental governance and environmental rule of law: governance is broader, holistic and has a global outlook at the policy cycle; rule of law integrates environmental needs with the essential elements of the rule of law, making environmental governance predictable, objective
  • Ambition to go beyond the specific compliance with the law and to promote a sustainable behaviour
  • Impediment to strong implementation: community does not understand the actions to be taken to comply; difficult to detect and prosecute violations; ineffective citizens’ involvement and civic engagement

Building more effective environmental institutions

  • Clear and appropriate mandates
  • Coordination across sectors and institutions
  • Capacity of personnel and institutions
  • Collection, use and dissemination of reliable data
  • Independent audit and review mechanisms
  • Fair and consistent enforcement of law
  • Strong leadership and management skills

Civic engagement in environmental decision

  • Broad access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities (available, updated, complete, understandable that is withheld only on exceptional grounds)
  • Realistic and meaningful opportunities to participate in decision-making processes related to the environment- public participation (early and clear engagement, different methods of engagements)
  • Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings – access to justice

Environmental rights

  • Rights-based approach reinforces environmental protection
  • Enshrine a right for a healthy environment in the constitution
  • Educate the public, link it with human rights
  • Defend environmental defenders that are targeted because of their advocacy

Environmental justice

  • Access to justice and fair adjudication
  • Problems with access to justice:
    • Legal standing: In order to file a case in court, the party must meet the jurisdiction’s requirements of “locus standi” or “standing,” which means having sufficient connection to the dispute to bring or participate in the court case. Many courts and legislatures have established broad standing to facilitate access to courts and tribunals for environmental cases
    • Financial barriers: Courts and tribunals can impose high court costs to bring and pursue a case, and attorneys’ and experts’ fees can be prohibitively expensive. Solutions include lowering bonding requirements in public interest cases and encouraging free representation by skilled legal counsel
    • Geographic remoteness: Getting to court from remote locations poses a significant hurdle due to the time, cost, and distance involved. To remedy this, some courts hold sessions in remote locations, use technology to allow virtual hearings in lieu of in-person hearings, and collaborate with nearby jurisdictions to provide one judge to serve several jurisdictions
    • Lack of specialized knowledge: Environmental matters often involve highly technical issues. Many people, lawyers and communities lack the legal and technical knowledge and skills to effectively bring their cases to court or present them. It is critical that specialized knowledge be made available to all parties in an environmental matter
  • Needs for a fair adjudication:
    • Proceedings are done by capable and impartial adjudicators: judges should be knowledgeable and competent regarding environmental law
    • Proceedings are fair: when citizens perceive officials to be acting fairly, the public is more likely to cooperate and comply with the legal system
    • Court procedures are efficient: use innovative procedures to combat backlogs as “justice delayed can be justice denied”
    • Decisions made are reasoned, documented and publicly available

Opportunities for the future

  • SDGs and environmental rule of law mutually support and promote
  • Commitment to focus on environmental rule of law and innovate in the field


Yves Lador, Geneva Representative, Earthjustice

  • We can’t have any sound and legitimate governance if there is no rule of law
  • Laying ground for discussion on environmental rule of law
  • Reference tool for the coming years
  • Considered as a mapping exercise – maturation of environmental rule of law
  • State of the art of environmental rule of law
  • More than rules, procedures and compliance
  • Information needed to know where we are, what are the threats and the challenges – idea of the trends
  • Gives capacity to act, since we know where we are at and what actions we should do
  • More than a procedural approach – explain what is to be gained from a certain policy/action
  • Environmental rule of law can give credibility of action, agency, security
  • Collective intelligence – includes rights to healthy and sustainable environment
  • Having rights enable collective action to protect the environment
  • How do we deal with the economic and geopolitical trends of today?
  • How do we include the scientific community?
  • Interconnections between different levels – global to local and local to global
  • No mechanism to deal with big ecosystems that are critical for the planet (Himalaya, Amazon, …)
  • Sovereignty is crucial, but how do we articulate it with the other influences we have to deal with?
  • International community is based on rule of law, but today there will not any system based on the rule of law if it is not included in environmental rule of law – environmental rule of law as the basis of rule of law


Nordic government representative, Mona Mejsen Westergaard, Ministry of Environment and Food, Denmark

  • Complex issue
  • Need to strengthen UNEP
  • Political will and financing of UNEP – continuing issues, dividing developing and developed countries – need for sector integration

General discussion

Q1: “I just wanted to briefly add some things.” Issue of governance has become very politicised. UNEP has universal membership, but has lost its force as an alerting mechanism because decisions have to be unanimous, consensual – need to bring back voting. Link between science and decision-making has never been completed solved in UNEP – assessment reports should be the foot of the discussion between ministers, not independent scientific reports. Funding – UNEP funding is voluntary and earmarked funding will remain the main issue. Link with MEAs has never been completely cleared, nor its relationship with the Secretariats
Sandeep Sengupta: In environmental governance, we have a body for policies, we have a body for science, but we do not have a body for good practices. Who is filling the gap for that lack? Additionally, IPCC is funded by just 30 countries, they are basically working for free. Maybe, we’ll need a reform or a new approach for UNEP funding

Q2: “I have a business background, therefore I am interested in asking a question about stakeholders: how do UNEP and the private sector interact? How do they handle the increasing involvement of stakeholders?”

Q3: “I come from the CITES Secretariat and I help governments put in place legislation. I see, particularly in African countries, weak governments that have difficulties in implementing MEAs, but I see very strong international NGOs and it is a bit sad that the funding the NGOs are able to raise, the governments are not able to raise. It undermines the legitimacy of international environmental law and of the governments, since the governments can’t implement them and they need help from NGOs. What about the strengthening of public institutions? There also new ways that influence decision-making, how do we deal with that?”

Representative of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia: “In one of the slides, Ethiopia is mentioned as one of the countries that restrict foreign handling on environmental issues, but this year we made changes to the civil society law, there are no more restrictions on civil society engaging in advocacy, democratization. Additionally, one of the challenges for my country relates to standing, what are the recommendations to overcome that challenge?”

Yves Lador: There’s something common in the questions raised, the question of drivers: what are the drivers and what leverage do we have? Evolution of compliance regimes and mechanisms, imported some compliance mechanisms from the human rights cluster as a driver for change. Another driver is the people, who do not feel heard and push governments to comply. We should not compare the situation of today with that of 50 or 60 years ago, things are evolving and what we did before is not always relevant to what we must do in the future. Today we must proceed differently, by consensus and with certainty, because failure will lead to a delegitimization of the whole system. The leverage we have is related to the cross-level governance we need: local, national, regional and international. The notion of rule of law has a logic of its own and pushes things forward. Work with the private actors must not be considered as working with other actors, you have political struggles inside each industry.

Maria Ivanova: We are working on the implementation of MEAs by governments. You strengthen governments by telling them how they are doing, also compared to their neighbours, and you encourage them to perform better, rather than let them say: “Oh, we are not good enough”. Related to the collective intelligence, I think we should do differently from the past, but on the other hand, we should compare with the past: we cannot look forward without looking back. We should also look at institutions, as we are all individuals in an institutional context, and we should compare ourselves.

Closing remarks

Felix Wertli, Head of the Global Affairs Section, Swiss Federal Office for the Environment

  • All countries should contribute as they can to UNEP’s budget, but need for more efficient use of funding
  • Stockholm+50 is not the 50th anniversary of UNEP – Stockholm is broader, encompasses more conventions
  • Mandates are here for the future – time to look back and see what we have achieved
  • One of the core functions of UNEP is science
  • We have to keep environment under review
  • Increased living standard but respecting the environment
  • How to create ecologically-sound production chains?
  • How to implement conventions and laws?
  • How to address marine litter and plastics?
  • How to connect the dots – the public, stakeholders, different sectors?



The event was live on Facebook.


Pre-Session Videos