Expert Meeting on Synergies among the Conventions
Report of the Chair
Governments and the international community have declared specific goals
with regard to sustainable development. These goals are contained in Agenda
21 and a range of individual instruments, including binding Conventions.
These are not just environmental plans but rather international commitments
concerning the integration of environmental protection and natural resources
management with socio-economic development.
These sustainable development instruments share in common many environmental
issues and contain numerous overlaps in terms of the obligations required
of their Parties (such as requirements for research, reporting, training,
and public education and awareness). These sustainable development instruments
can be more effectively implemented through a greater understanding of
the synergies between these instruments, and a coordinated and harmonized
approach to their implementation at national and international levels.
In this context "synergy is taken to mean ... a combined effect ...
that exceeds the sum of individual effects" (Concise Oxford Dictionary,
Four of these instruments -- the Convention on Biological Diversity,
the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention to Combat Desertification,
and the Forestry Principles -- derive directly from the 1992 UN Conference
on Environment and Development (the "Rio Earth Summit"). We are
now five years beyond UNCED, a time when the global community -- including
the UN General Assembly -- is reviewing progress made on these agreements.
II. Purpose of the Meeting
To explore the issue of synergies among the Rio instruments, the United
Nations Development Programme organized and convened a meeting in Sede
Boqer, Israel involving some 40 experts representing every continent. The
meeting was supported with funding from the Governments of Israel, Japan
and Denmark, and by UNDP.
The meeting was designed to bring together experts at the national and international levels who are involved in helping to implement the four Rio agreements. Their task was to explore ways to create synergy between and among the instruments -- in particular at the national level -- to help foster better implementation and to improve the prospects for sustainable development. In doing so, they considered a number of questions. For example:
In a world in which governments work through sectors to effect national
development and carry out their policies, how can cross-cutting environmental
Conventions best be implemented through the sectoral mechanisms of governments?
How can such sectors benefit from the implementation of the Conventions;
how do they affect the Conventions; and what can the sectors do to support
the goals of the Conventions? What do the Conventions share in common,
and how can these overlaps be used to produce synergy?
The meeting focused on examining the possibilities for synergy at the national level among the instruments by exploring four key areas related to their implementation:
It was recognized that there would be overlap and complementarity between these four themes. Discussion notes were prepared to help guide the discussions.
III. Key Themes and Messages from the Meeting
Based on the work undertaken at this meeting, participants developed a number of proposals, options, and recommendations to better improve implementation of the Conventions, to reduce conflicts and overlaps, and to produce synergy among them. Among the larger themes and messages which emerged were:
Synergies in implementing the Conventions -- at the international, national and local levels -- are clearly possible. Synergy could be achieved, for instance, through harmonized data collection and the establishment of common data sets, through better coordinated reporting processes and schedules, and through public awareness activities incorporating information about a range of environmental issues.
However, producing such synergy is no easy matter; it is the culmination
of a process in which complementarities between the Conventions are identified
and used to further implementation while overlaps are eliminated (or at
least conflicts between them reduced). Taking advantage of the complementarities
and reducing conflicts (e.g., the potential for conflict between a biodiversity
strategy and a forest strategy) requires the ability to design necessary
actions and then having the means to take these actions. Even before a
potential point of synergy is reached, eliminating or reducing the conflicts
can go a long way toward improving implementation of the instruments. In
addition, complementary provisions of Conventions can be implemented in
ways that improve cost effectiveness by achieving the same or greater results
with fewer or the same resources.
Planning and Policy
The overlaps among the four instruments extend to other international
agreements such as Ramsar, CITES, the Montreal Protocol, and the Law of
the Sea. The requirements (including reporting obligations) of these instruments
can lead to duplicative effort and place a substantial burden on countries
-- particularly a strain on human and financial resources. To turn such
potential burdens into possible synergies requires planning -- national
and sectoral development planning and plans built specifically for national
implementation of the Conventions. The key is to anchor implementation
plans into national development priorities and policies. In many countries,
there may be no cohesive planning framework, which makes the integration
of the instrument-related plans into sectoral policies essential. One option
countries may want to pursue is to identify a "strategic entry point"
for analysis -- for example, a country with an extensive forest cover may
find this a better entry point than the climate change issue -- and then
direct its resources to addressing a range of environmental issues through
Conventions are implemented in countries at the national, regional,
district and community levels. A high priority is to develop the institutions
and capacities necessary to enable countries to translate these international
agreements into action at these levels. One problem countries face is that
capacities diminish from the national to the local level, therefore the
well-justified efforts of governments to decentralize and devolve authority
must be supported by additional resources of skilled, trained people and
There are no quick institutional "fixes" for coordinating
implementation of the agreements. Nor is there an institutional blueprint
for most effective implementation. Coordination among the instruments must
be nationally driven, with synergies allowed to form to support national
priorities. Institutional structures aimed at coordinating implementation
of international agreements need to fit into the existing institutional
and planning frameworks to the extent possible. Coordinated implementation
is likely to require horizontal structures to support inter-ministerial
consultation and cooperation, as well as to involve multi-stakeholder participation
at all levels. In this, the national focal points for each Convention can
become important driving forces for synergistic action by carrying out
their individual instrument responsibilities in coordination with one another.
Information Systems and Reporting
Underlying the challenge parties face in fulfilling the reporting requirements
of the Conventions is the more fundamental issue of the lack of an information
system in many developing countries. Where there is no information system,
reporting is necessarily ad hoc and demanding. Worse, a country has no
real means for saying whether the Conventions are being implemented or
even whether progress is being made toward the goals of sustainable development.
An information system not only allows a country to have the data necessary
to fulfill its obligations and generate reports, but also to better define,
guide and assess the progress being achieved on its development policies.
International Level Interventions
Interventions at the international level can support -- and may even
be required in order to produce -- synergy at the national level. For example,
instructions by the COPs to their Secretariats to work collaboratively/synergistically
with the Secretariats of the other Conventions would contribute greatly
to opportunities for national-level synergy.
IV. Messages Applicable to the International Community
and the CSD
For synergy to be achieved at the national level, it needs to exist
at the international level. While the Sede Boqer meeting focused expressly
on national level concerns regarding implementation of the instruments,
several messages emerged for the international community and the Commission
on Sustainable Development. These include:
As already noted, the COPs of the instruments could support synergy by instructing their Secretariats to work collaboratively with one another.
Shared reporting schedules and other ways to streamline reporting requirements could be developed between instruments, thus lessening the reporting burden on Parties. In this regard, a useful reference document is the "Report of the Secretary-General on Proposals for the Streamlining of Requests for National Reporting" (E/CN.17/1997/6).
The four instruments could be analyzed in detail to identify data and information needed to monitor and assess progress. Such an analysis should be done at the international level as a resource to all parties; however, interpretation at the national level will be needed since data needs differ between countries, and scale, precision and definitions should be developed and agreed to locally.
The Convention Secretariats can contribute to the development and dissemination
of training modules such as the CC-Train model based on the TrainX method.
The Secretariats can also undertake efforts to provide information tools
that increase understanding of and give greater access to the Conventions.
V. Supporting National Implementation of the Conventions
By the completion of the Sede Boqer meeting, participants were agreed
that countries Party to the Conventions could benefit substantially from
useful information on a range of ways to maximize complementarities, remove
or reduce obstacles and overlaps, and produce synergies in the implementation
of the Conventions. Such information could be in the form of a country-level
handbook with approaches to promote implementation; it would not be prescriptive,
but rather would contain information on options which might be applicable
in certain settings.
UNDP, within its mandate on capacity building and sustainable development
planning, could play the lead role in developing such an information handbook
tool, working in close collaboration with the Secretariats to the Conventions
and in consultation with national and international experts.
Based on the discussions and reports from the meetings four working
groups (institutional requirements, capacity requirements, national planning,
and reporting and information requirements), the following overall themes
and topics could be included in such a handbook:
Overview, rationale and the possibility for synergy
The handbook could begin with a broad overview concerning:
Implementation: How to move global Conventions to the local level
The chapter would identify the problems, challenges and issues to doing
this, and offer a range of options appropriate for different settings.
For example, options generated at the Sede Boqer meeting include:
Implementation: How to deal with the fact that the instruments overlap
and cut across one another
How to meet the information and reporting requirements
Awareness and Education
This chapter could address two primary issues:
Develop curriculum for all levels which integrates the concerns of the four instruments and the link of socio-economic issues to environmental and resource management issues.
Utilize regional training facilities to provide training based on a combined multidisciplinary curriculum and the TrainX methodology.
Build public awareness of the four instruments through media, public
service advertising, and on-going education of the press.
VI. Next Steps
UNDP will prepare a more detailed report of the discussions held and options identified at the Expert Meeting on Synergies among the Conventions which will be made available to the Special Session of the UN General Assembly in June 1997.
UNDP will continue the dialogue process initiated at Sede Boqer with
other partners to identify ways national and international institutions
can produce synergy to further the successful implementation of the instruments.
As part of those discussions, UNDP will undertake substantial consultations
with the Convention Secretariats to explore the feasibility of producing
a handbook for national implementation.
Karen Jorgensen, Chair
Ted L. Howard, Chief Rapporteur