Ahead of the 26th session of the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC-26/GMEF) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP, 21-24 February 2011), the Major Groups ad Stakeholder Branch of UNEP organized the 12th session of its Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum (GMHSF-12).
Attended by over 100 representatives from the different major groups – including farmers; women; the scientific and technological community; children and youth; indigenous peoples and their communities; workers and trade unions; business and industry; non-governmental organizations; and local authorities – as well as other stakeholders, the meeting aimed to provide a platform for exchange and consultation on key environmental issues, such as international environmental governance (IEG), and the green economy. It also aimed to create new partnerships with major groups and stakeholders in the lead up to UN Conference on Sustainable Development (“Rio 2012”) to be held on 4-6 June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The conclusions of the meeting will feed into the GC-26/GMEF.
Following the opening session, which featured welcoming remarks by Tomoko Nishimoto, Director of UNEP’s Division for Regional Cooperation, and Alexander Juras, Chief of the Major Groups and Stakeholders Branch, among others, a panel discussion was held on International Environmental Governance (IEG). Finland’s ambassador Heli Sirvi gave a comprehensive presentation on the work of the Consultative Group of Ministers or High-level Representatives on International Environmental Governance, established by UNEP’s Governing Council in decision SS.XI/1 of 26 February 2010 to “consider the broader reform of the international environmental governance system.” She also explained the resulting Nairobi-Helsinki process and its outcome.
Margaret Kamar, Assistant Minister for Environment and Mineral Resources, Kenya, said that the “success of the Nairobi-Helsinki process is largely due to the active participation of all stakeholders,” including all Major Groups. She highlighted progress in the discussions on the institutional form of an effective international environment governance system, but cautioned that this process has to continue in order to build on the political momentum for a stronger IEG regime. In relation to Rio 2012, she warned that the institutional form of the Environmental Pillar of sustainable development in currently ineffective.
Arthur Lyn Dahl of the International Environment Forum, explained key strategies for civil society participation in international environmental governance, as developed by the Major Groups and Stakeholders Advisory Group on IEG. It includes the systematic participation of civil society in IEG, especially in scientific advice, deliberations, accountability, access to dispute settlement and legal remedies, definition of ethical and moral principles, education and building public support. Transparency, public participation and accountability are seen as foundational and essential elements of sound environmental governance, both at international and domestic levels, and must be fully incorporated and realized in environmental governance systems. (see also the information note UNEP/GC.26/INF/19)
Other panel discussants as well as participants in the session noted that an international environmental governance framework should be based on increased coherence and synergies in multilateral environmental agreements. It should also be in accordance with the needs of developing countries, and address environmental and social challenges. Furthermore, it was stressed that reliable finance and technical support, as well as capacity building for developing countries are key in this respect. Finally, participants discussed whether UNEP should become a specialized agency to focus on IEG.
The panel discussion on environmental governance was followed by a panel discussion on the green economy, which focussed on the main conclusions of the recently released Green Economy Report and how these fit in the overall sustainable development debate. It also considered the role of civil society and the private sector, governments and multilateral institutions in making the transition to a Green Economy.
The discussion underlined that investments in natural capital are very important in the global fight against poverty: as is the transformation to clean energy production systems. However, moving forward towards a green economy demands long-term political stability, economic resilience and broader societal change, panel discussants said. Awareness raising in rural populations and safeguarding against social injustices with regard to implementation of a green economy is key.
The Forum further featured a dialogue with Achim Steiner, UNEP’s Executive Director, who shared his views on IEG and the green economy in relation to Rio 2012, and in the context of the GC-26/GMEF, as well as a session on partnerships with major groups and stakeholders.
The latter highlighted the need for stronger engagement of all stakeholders, including concerned citizens. Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), noted that the public sector is needed for setting the foundations; the private sector for creating employment: and civil society for ensuring that consumers are informed and governments are held accountable. Participants further agreed that more efforts should be made to increase public participation in decision making processes.
The last session of the Forum focussed on refining the Major Group’s key messages to the GC-26/GMEF. The Major Groups’ joint message calls upon all governments to engage strongly and constructively in Rio 2012 in order to take advantage of the extremely important and timely opportunity it offers to address the multiple crises now facing human society. It states that “transparency, public participation and accountability are foundational and essential elements of sound environmental governance, both at international and domestic levels, and must be fully incorporated and realized in environmental governance systems.” These principles should be formally recognized by the 26th GC/GMEF, for example in a Governing Council resolution. IEG reform also needs to achieve and strengthen environmental justice at all levels.
The joint message further puts forward that “the green economy has to be inclusive, providing opportunities and improving livelihoods and wellbeing for all. The world’s rural poor must be engaged in an equitable and participatory manner, if sustainable development and poverty eradication are to be realized. Green economy is a shared responsibility that requires collaborative action beyond governments, across all actors in society.”
To read the full joint message, click here.
For more information on the Forum, click here.