Photo: The conference room at the UN Office, Nairobi. Credit: ENB | IISD - Photo: 2019

NGOs Seen to Play Crucial Role in Implementing Global Environment Pacts

By Justus Wanzala

NAIROBI (IDN) – The civil society and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) supported by local communities can play a critical role in addressing climate change and growing inequalities, and contribute to achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, according to participants of the recent High-level Political Forum (HPLPF) at the UN headquarters in New York.

A similar appeal emerged from an important event at the United Nations office at Nairobi in Kenya where the complementary role of NGOs in aiding governments in implementing global pacts on environment was emphasized. Bolivia called for stressing the role of indigenous peoples and local communities as well.

Some 300 government delegates, representatives of international organizations, specialized agencies and representatives of civil society stressed that a global model of localizing SDGs can accelerate implementation of existing international policies and multilateral environment agreements (MEAs).

On MEAs increasing their efforts on policy coherence, Bolivia proposed including “other relevant stakeholders,” such as indigenous peoples and local communities, in identifying and addressing implementation challenges.

MEAs are treaties primarily between the United Nations and individual governments involving policies related to the atmosphere, freshwater, hazardous waste and substance, the marine environment, nature conservation, noise pollution and nuclear safety.

A complex networking system is needed for a functional MEA system. Levels of government within a state may impede each other, for example about climate change due to opposing views or parties, making implementation more difficult and impacting external relationships.

In practice, policies surrounding an MEA are determined by the participating countries. The United Nations and the World Trade Organization (WTO) are key intergovernmental organizations for forging and implementing the agreements.

Philip Osano, Acting Centre Director of Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) Africa – an international non-profit research and policy organization that tackles environment and development challenges – notes that NGOs are keen to see governments focus on existing international policies and MEAs such as the RIO Conventions to conserve and protect biodiversity, combat desertification and address climate change.

The Conventions emerged from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in June 1990 in Rio de Janeiro, known as the Earth Summit .

According to Osano who is also SEI Africa’s Centre Deputy Director for Capacity Development and Partnership, higher ambitions are needed from governments towards implementing their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that were signed under the Paris Agreement.

His views resonate with among others the issues that came to the fore during the third and final Substantive Session of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) convened from May 20-22, 2019 at the UN Office at Nairobi.

The OEWG, established on May 10, 2018 by United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution 72/277 entitled ‘Towards a Global Pact for the Environment’, completed its mandate and adopted its recommendations to the UNGA, following its consideration of possible gaps in international environmental law (IEL) and environment-related instruments with a view to strengthening their implementation.

Some 300 participants attended, including delegates, representatives of international organizations, specialized agencies and civil society – with Amal Mudallali, Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the UN in New York and her colleague Francisco António Duarte Lopes from Portugal as Co-Chairs.

The final document, adopted by the OEWG on May 23, 2019, has three sections, setting out: objectives, including the reinforcement of environmental protection for present and future generations and strengthening IEL and environment-related instruments; substantive recommendations; and consideration of further work.

The OEWG asked UNGA to circulate its recommendations to UN member states and members of UN specialized agencies and governing bodies of multilateral environmental agreements for consideration and action.

The OEWG also advised that UNGA forward the recommendations to the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) – the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment – for its consideration, in conjunction with the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2022, with a view to strengthening IEL and environmental governance.

During the closing plenary, NGOs described political will as the most important gap and accused those countries most responsible for the planet’s ecological breakdown of attempting to “kill the process”.

Co-Chair Duarte thanked NGOs in particular for their strong intervention and the role they play in steering the process towards greater ambition. He acknowledged that the meeting had produced a weak result in terms of substance, but noted that it was on the basis of consensus and thus provides a first step to continue the process, which now has a 2022 milestone to aim for.

Concurring with Co-Chair Duarte, analysts said that NGO-led public engagement and advocacy will be an important factor in determining whether this agenda flourishes on its way back to the UNGA and beyond.

Tying this process to the 50th anniversary of the Stockholm Conferences in 2022, establishes a compelling intergenerational timeline that can in itself animate and mobilize support within and beyond the UN system, stated an analysis by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

Events to mark this milestone will help recast the modest and halting beginnings of a conversation at the OEWG within calls for a more urgent, systematic, and principled response to climate change and growing awareness of threats to the survival of many species, including, as one delegate soberly remarked during the negotiations, our own.

SEI’s Osano underscored the complimentary role of NGOs in aiding governments in implementing global pacts on environment. “It is also necessary that all governments realize that the catastrophic effects of climate change are felt in both high- and low-income countries; these long-lasting effects will impact the future generations as well, and further put life on the planet at risk,” declared Osano.

SEI, an international non-profit research and policy organization, supports governments by providing scientific evidence on the scale of environmental problems, including climate change, and by doing so, enables policy makers to make use of the latest research findings in decision making.

As Osano noted, several NGOs under the umbrella of the Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future have actively contributed to this process, including by way of a civil society statement during the third substantive meeting on global pact for the environment.

He is furthermore of the view that governments, intra-governmental organizations and NGOs need to take advantage of the new global approach of localizing SDGs to foster efforts towards achieving the 2030 global agenda.

“Knowledge generation for informed decision making at local, national, regional and global scales remains a critical ingredient to ensure a successful global pact. SEI will continue to engage in research and knowledge generation by bridging science and policy across different environment themes in addressing environment and climate change challenge,” he told IDN.

Participants gave wide ranging views on the way forward. Eritrea representing the African Group, pitched for enhanced role of UNEP. While Uganda and Cameroon, called for adherence to the UNGA resolution, giving attention to possible gaps in IEL implementation.

Some delegates further noted that the OEWG process should be a single integrated package addressing gaps and challenges, fragmentation of IEL, principles, and implementation, while others cautioned against a “one-size-fits-all” approach to IEL.

The principle of all humans’ right to a healthy, ecologically balanced environment was emphasized as delegates called for determination for an appropriate way of strengthening international environmental governance, including economic and social elements.

Despite the apparent disappointment of Co-Chair Duarte Lopes due to lack of a strong consensus as noted in his remarks during the closing remarks, optimism still reigned   among delegates., “This process has always had some characteristics that make it difficult to steer,” he observed. [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 July 2019]

Photo: The conference room at the UN Office, Nairobi. Credit: ENB | IISD

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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