"What is on the environment development agenda?" séminaire à Stockholm

[vert] From policy to practice (Seminar : “Green growth and human development” – SIDA/SEI)
Stockholm, 23-24 February 2011 [/vert]

Stockholm Environment Institute and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) hosted an afternoon seminar entitled: Green growth and human development in an era of rapid global change: investing in new knowledge for policy and practice. Mr Olivier Lacroix, Councellor at the Embassy of France in Sweden, who took part in this seminar

Speach delivered by Mr Olivier Lacroix:

Mr Chairman,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to thank SIDA and the Stockholm Environmental Institute for its kind invitation. I am truly honoured to join this first panel today and speak on behalf of the French Government. Here in Sweden, I am in charge of coordinating environmental issues at the French Embassy but il will be on my former capacity of negociator on International Environmental Governance, at the U.N. in New York, that I will focus my presentation.

The possible creation of a World Environment Organization, which is one of the two main themes of "Rio+20", together with green economy, is a key priority for French diplomacy. It is one of the issues advocated by the current Presidency of the G8/G20, which happens to be France by the way… I will try to explain to you why, from a practitioner point of you, from my personal point of view, it should top the environment development agenda

1/ The degradation of the environment has been recognized as one of the most serious threats, not just for the future of the planet and its natural resources, but also for the survival of human kind. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity, desertification, and an ever-increasing number of natural disasters, affect all countries and all peoples - particularly those that are most vulnerable. No surprise : sustainable development is one of the 8 MDGs (n°7).

But 10 years after Johannesburg, twenty years after Rio, 40 years after Stockholm, what can we expect from the new Conference “Rio + 20 “ in Brazil in June 2012, for the institutional framework of sustainable development? And after the relative failure of the Copenhagen meeting, do we really need to strengthen the IEG considering that “heavy UN bureaucracy” and complex decision-making channels were at the origin (partly) of the poor results of the COP15, according to many? And the fact that environment and sustainable development are the only ones not to benefit from the legitimacy of an international organization (contrary to health, trade, labour, agriculture and food, culture, etc.), well, is this reason enough to have a new structure, a new “bureaucracy” as people would say, when a program of the UN dedicated to environment (UNEP) does already exist?

2 / Well, let’s have a look at the current situation of the IEG:

First, Environmental governance is characterized by its fragmentation: the increasing number of multilateral environmental agreements (more than 500) is source of relative incoherence, inefficiency sometimes, additional costs often, and imperfect allocation of resources always;

Second, there are serious gaps in scientific expertise, early warning systems, and information, especially in the developing countries: collecting and accessing data are complex and thus too limited; there are no structured warning mechanisms with sufficient international visibility and sometimes capacity to address emergency situation;

Third, specific needs of developing countries are not sufficiently taken into account. These countries are more vulnerable to environmental degradation when having much fewer financial, human and technologic resources to address it. Not to mention the fact that their lack of resources makes difficult their full participation in agreements decision-making, implementation and follow-up;

Last, environment is characterized by complex sources of financing, due to the fragmentation of the institutional system that I was mentioning before. This situation results in transactions costs and in inaccurate allocation of resources that are not linked to national strategies.

3/ In this context, what could be the added-value of a WEO or, - and this was the other option then, that I was promoting when I was in NY - a UN Specialized Agency – UNEO -? To be clear and concrete:

Nowadays, UNEP has no authority on multilateral environmental agreements. In addition, funding of multilateral environmental agreements mostly comes from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), administratively managed by the World Bank and legally independent from UNEP.

Considering the need to strengthen the coherence of the existing international arrangements, and the legitimacy of IEG based on the participation of members states, a World Environmental Organization _ – as well as a UN specialized agency built on an upgraded UNEP-, should address :

  • the challenge of fragmentation while preserving the necessary flexibility as well as the legal autonomy of the main Conventions. At the same time, the organization should be able to define strategic guidelines approved by Member States;
  • the challenge of coordination and cross-cutting issues (capacity building and technology transfer, and follow-up of the implementation of agreements).

    0 Several institutional options could be considered, in order to improve coordination without affecting the legal autonomy of the main Conventions, in particular in regard with their normative activities. In this respect, models existing within the UN system (notably the WHO, the ILO, or WIPO) could serve as inspiration.

But in a broader perspective, an “upgraded UNEP” would take a fully part in the broader reform of global governance which aims at more efficiency and better representation of the world of today (LDCs, emerging countries, etc.). Responses should be based on the principle of the ownership by each State of the elaboration of environmental policies. WEO mandate should clearly address the environment in the context of sustainable development. The organization would have to contribute to the strengthening of capacity building and technology support (in this regard, in full cooperation with UNDP). It could also help to strengthen scientific expertise and involvement of researchers from developing countries, thus promoting a regional approach when necessary.
0 And in this respect, the new organization has to remain in Nairobi, where UNEP is located, being the only UN institution headquartered in Africa.

4/ So where are we now?

As early as 2005, within the framework of the 60th UN General Assembly, the EU initiated a debate on international environmental governance in order to enhance multilateral system consistency, including the establishment of a specialized agency instead of the current UNEP.

Despite strong support from EU Member States, the draft resolution submitted in 2008 to the 63rd UNGA did not reach the expected consensus.

But in 2009, UNEP launched new consultations on international environmental governance. The Helsinki meeting at the end of 2010 was very praiseful, with strong supports from Sweden, Finland, Germany, Italy, the European Commission and France. At the same time in New York, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution on “Rio + 20”, mentioning the main themes of the conference, one being “the institutional framework of sustainable development”. And this week, the 26th Session of the UNEP Governing Council (21-25 February 2011), is discussing options to strengthen the IEG. I noticed that Swedish Minister Andreas Carlgren, who is attending the meeting, said Monday in Nairobi: "There is a lack of unity in international environmental governance. We need an effective United Nations that serves as a unifying and driving force in international environmental work. Sweden is playing a proactive role in these efforts."

Ladies and Gentlemen,

To conclude, I would like to quote the former French President Jacques Chirac who said at the Johannesburg Earth Summit: "The house is burning and we are looking elsewhere." Today in 2011, our house is still burning but let’s try to be optimistic by making “ Rio + 20 “ a new “ Stockholm 1972 Conference “: an historical milestone for environment.

Thank you for your attention.

Interview of Mr Olivier Lacroix:

More information on this seminar: sida.se

Updated 04/03/2011

top of the page