Expert Meeting on Synergies among the Conventions
on Biodiversity, Climate Change, Combating
Desertification and the Forest Principles
Sede Boqer, Israel, 17-20 March 1997
COORDINATING IMPLEMENTATION OF THE RIO AGREEMENTS:
INSTITUTIONAL MECHANISMS AND PROCESSES
Background discussion paper
Foundation for International Environmental
Law and Development
The aim of this background paper is to promote discussion
of possible institutional mechanisms and processes to coordinate implementation
of the Climate Change, Biodiversity, and Desertification Conventions and
the Forest Principles (for ease of reference, these will be referred to
in this paper as the "Rio agreements"). These discussions form
part of a meeting organised by UNDP on synergies in the implementation
of the four instruments. Institutional mechanisms and processes
for coordination are broadly defined in this background paper, to include
types of institutions, arrangements between institutions and, to a limited
extent, activities which might be undertaken jointly by institutions in
support of a coordinated approach to the agreements. The paper does
not attempt to set out solutions to the demands of coordination but to
frame the setting within which institutional mechanisms for coordination
might evolve and to give practical examples of some available mechanisms
The Secretary General's report on overall progress achieved
since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED)
notes that more can be done to make implementation of the three Rio Conventions
mutually reinforcing, by addressing substantive linkages and identifying
projects that achieve the objectives of more than one convention. Coordinated
implementation of the Rio agreements should also be set in the context
of the much broader rubric of the Rio conference: the achievement of sustainable
Institutional responses to the agreements at all levels
need to recognise the interdependence of ecological functions. The holistic,
cross-cutting nature of the agreements demands coordination of resources
and policy-making. However, to the extent that they relate to the same
resources, there may also be tensions or even conflicts between the agreements.
II WHY SYNERGY?
What is synergy? The definition of synergy refers
to a "combined effect . . . that exceeds the sum of individual effects".
Where international agreements deal with related issues, coordination is
desirable to achieve cost-effective "win-win" solutions on the
part of governments and international institutions, and to assist in avoiding
negative cross-sectoral impacts. Efforts to exploit these synergies should
aim at concrete results. The desire for cross-cutting solutions should
not lead to a mere re-categorization of existing activities or institutions,
but to real efforts at achieving cross-sectoral benefits.
Although the Rio agreements clearly have much in common,
there is unlikely to be a perfect template for achieving synergies between
them, particularly at the national level. This is in part because of the
nature of the agreements - at present, they contain little by way of specific,
binding commitments, particularly for developing countries. Rather, specific
national priorities and objectives in relation to the agreements are likely
to arise through the relevant national planning/strategy processes,
which have been taking place or are underway in most countries. What is
then "in common" in the national plans and strategies can be
identified, and mechanisms sought for coordinating implementation. This
is likely to lead each country to exploit different points of "synergy"
with the other agreements. - For example, a state which identifies adaptation
as a priority activity in its national programme under the Climate Change
Convention will be interested in different types of policies and projects
to a state which focuses upon emissions reductions.
Thus, there are no quick institutional "fixes"
for coordinating implementation of the agreements. Coordination must be
nationally driven, and any "synergies" allowed to form to support
the nationally set priorities. Synergy and coordination for their own sake
(and specific institutional structures for synergy) are unlikely to result
in benefits unless directed towards specific goals. While effective coordination
can reduce administrative and operational costs, coordination itself imposes
costs. This is not to understate the importance of seeking functional coordination,
but simply to avoid the addition of further bureaucratic layers in the
absence of clear objectives. Overarching institutions which lack a clear
focus are likely to prove unwieldy and ineffective. Institutional structures
aimed at coordinating implementation of aspects of the agreements are also
likely to need to fit into an existing framework established under national
environmental action plans (such as World Bank sponsored NEAPs), sustainable
development plans under Agenda 21, and other social and economic development
Some general points can be made about possible institutional
mechanisms for coordinating an approach to the implementation of the agreements.
First, to effectively enhance implementation of the agreements, coordination
needs to take place at all levels:
- regional (and subregional)
It should also take place in relation to:
- programmes and planning
Secondly, obstacles to coordination exist at all levels.
- absence of coherent hierarchy both within the UN system
and between the UN and Bretton Woods systems
- competition for power and resources ("turf")
- conflicting agendas and lack of prioritisation
- conflicts between national priorities and global agendas.
Thirdly, an understanding of scientific interlinkages
underpinning the subject-matter of the agreements is an important tool
in addressing synergies in implementation, i.e. between climate change,
land degradation (including desertification and deforestation) and biodiversity
loss. Effective mechanisms to analyse cross-sectoral impacts and to feed
evolving scientific knowledge into policy-making are required.
Fourthly, and as emphasised above, priority setting
at the national level, in an international context, will influence
the design of any institutional mechanisms. At the national level, institutions
will need to respond to national circumstances and to country-driven priorities.
The national planning processes should identify key problems and determine
the relative importance of different human activities/sectors. Delivering
the objectives of the various national plans should be seen in a holistic
manner, and effective ways for linking national sectoral plans to a comprehensive
strategic planning framework aimed at achieving sustainable development
should explored. The relevant national planning processes are likely to
require much by way of common information and inputs - i.e. coordinated
planning can facilitate coordinated implementation.
IV COORDINATION MECHANISMS
This section looks at possible mechanisms for enhancing
coordination among institutions at the national, regional and international
levels. It also explicitly addresses coordination of activities of bilateral
and multilateral funding agencies relevant to the agreements. The examples
given are not intended to be exhaustive, but represent something of a menu.
They are not offered as recommendations, but as examples and ideas for
Some key questions:
- What functions do the national-level institutions
need to perform? How do policies in relation to the agreements fit into
the broader development priorities of the country concerned? - Fitting
the agreements into the broader goal of sustainable development.
- What needs to be done to identify points of synergy
among the agreements at the national level? What obvious potential opportunities
are there, and how can these be exploited?
The Conventions call for (or implicitly require) integration
of environmental concerns into other areas of policy, but they leave it
to country parties to dhow this should be done. They do not yet require
the establishment of particular institutions at the national lev. The policy
and institutional framework for implementation is for each party to decide.
While most countries have in place some form of environment agency or ministry
with overall responsibility for environmental issues, a number of relevant
activities generally fall within the mandates of other ministries. These
might include, for example, forestry, agriculture, and energy. Clearly,
coordinated implementation of the agreements (or of any one of the agreements)
is likely to require horizontal structures for inter-ministry consultation
and cooperation. Mechanisms are not always in place to facilitate this
cooperation. Moreover, even where structures are in place, differential
power bases of the relevant ministries and the different priorities of
the ministries involved may work against synergy.
Institutions for implementation of the agreements will
require both technical skills and political authority, i.e. the information
and the means to implement effective policies.
- Coordinating commissions or councils
- - Sustainable development councils:These
are mechanisms through which policy integration is sought. They
are generally made up of a number of relevant government departments, and
a range of non-governmental actors. They are intended to provide the institutional
framework for the development of integrated decision-making and priority-setting.
Many such councils are governmental bodies or closely linked to government.
If they are to work, it is important that
sustainable development councils are more than political institutions -
they should incorporate specific links to the operational and local levels.
- - Convention-specific committees:These
have been established by a number of countries as part of their response
to the Climate Change, Biodiversity and Desertification Conventions, and
often to coordinate development of the relevant national plan. They are
typically governmental, inter-departmental committees, with technical inputs
and input from non-governmental stakeholders. Once again, they operate
at the policy level.
Do such committees or councils lead to operational coordination in
practice? What technical input do the committees receive?
- Focal points
The Conventions encourage the designation of country
focal points. Common focal points, or close liaison between
focal points should be encouraged. The role of focal points at the national
level could be upgraded. National focal points should maintain close links
with all key players at the country level, including relevant government
departments and agencies, non-governmental organisations, the private sector
and other stakeholders, as well as relevant donors. The focal point can
provide the primary link between international and national action.
Liaison and consultation between Convention
focal points in the light of national plans may reveal some of the points
of synergy at the national level in implementation of the agreements. This
may give rise to specific operational activities and projects.
How active a role do country focal points
play at present? How might this role be upgraded?
- National task forces: High-level
councils, such as the national sustainable development councils or climate
change committees might establish task forces responsible for the following-up
specific policy issues. These task forces could be made up of council
members and retain a cross-sectoral and multi-disciplinary character.
- Technical panels: Technical panels
or working groups could be established in relation to specific problem-areas
to provide policy-makers (e.g. the national committees) with appropriate
technical input. These groups should be multidisciplinary in order to undertake
assessment of cross-sectoral linkages.
- Where more than one agency has competence in relation
to a particular resource, in the light of the national planning process,
governments may consider re-allocating tasks. This might incorporate a
delegation of tasks or a lead agency approach. Broader transfers
of competence may be preferred where, for example, a large number of
ministries are competent with respect to activities impacting upon the
management of one resource. Coordination and rationalisation will also
be issues in countries where significant authority over relevant resources
rests with state/provincial/municipal or local governments.
- Departmental focal points ("Green Ministers"):
Some governments have opted to try to bring an environmental
perspective into all activities through appointing "Green Ministers"
in all government departments, or by placing officials from an environmental
agency in other departments.
- Joint evaluation of programmes and projects: Planned
programmes and projects could be subject to consultation and assessment
by other relevant bodies for any cross-sectoral impacts. This might comprise
formal environmental impact assessment (see further below) or mandatory
- Monitoring: Since significant elements
of the relevant resource base is common to the agreements, monitoring should
be coordinated. This might be done, for example, through an independent
- Identifying key sectoral areas: National
efforts at coordination might start with the identification of key sectoral
areas in which a coordinated approach is required. Forest management would
seem an obvious example here as a focus for early efforts.
- Local level institutions: Participatory
approaches to national planning and priority-setting, encouraged in Agenda
21 are likely to lead to a significant role for local institutions in coordinating
approaches to the agreements. Decentralisation seems likely to play
a key role in resource management. Local institutions (e.g. at the municipal
and village level) are likely to be particularly significant in project
planning, and are likely to play an important role in identifying cross-sectoral
impacts and benefits. Local level institutional arrangements may be built
upon the partnerships developed during national planning processes. A key
challenge will be to build operational links between the local and national
levels. Examples of successes/failures to date would be useful.
National legal and policy framework
The national legal and policy framework is central to
the effective functioning of institutions for implementation of the agreements.
Two key devices for achieving the objectives of the agreements are integrated
land use management and environmental impact assessment.
- Planning/land use - Integrated land use planning
and management is central to the achievement of the objectives of all four
instruments, as a tool for decision-making over competing uses of land.
Once again, land use objectives and priorities will emerge at the national
level through national plans. Effective institutions will be required to
implement land use objectives.
- Traditionally, environmental impact assessment
(EIA) procedures apply to projects likely to have significant adverse impacts
on the environment. Extended use of EIA procedures to apply to policies,
plans and programmes could be encouraged, taking specifically into account
the objectives of the four instruments.
- Institutions for conflict resolution - where competing
land uses are at issue, effective mechanisms for resolving disputes are
To implement the Rio agreements, new multilateral partnerships
are likely to be required over the long-term, bringing together, for example,
national government, multilateral and regional development banks, and the
private sector. Regulatory barriers to private investment
may need to be re-assessed in the light of this need. New institutional
mechanisms at the international and national levels might foster these
Multilateral and bilateral donors are well-placed
to ensure that their activities contribute to the exploitation of synergies
between the agreements.
- Country level coordination of activities of donors:
Mechanisms are requto ensure that donors' activities are complementary.
At national level, a coordination mechanism may be helpful to consider
programmatic linkages in accordance with nationally set priorities. The
recipient government be primarily responsible for ensuring that the activities
of donors conform to national plans and priorities. A central national
authority or mechanism for coordinating aid might be useful in some
instances. This might be linked to national committees for coordinating
implementation of the agreements. In any event, once again coordinated
planning should be followed up by operational coordination.
- Another mechanism for assisting in the coordination of
activities of donors and development banks may be the establishment of
a database of projects and feasibility studies. At the regional
or subregional level, a clearing house for projects might be
established, to link available funding to action plans, and to enhance
possibilities for co-financing. These might also facilitate the
involvement of private sector finance. Partnerships between public
and private finance may also serve to harness private finance in support
of the objectives of the agreements.
- Cross-sectoral projects and assessments: Donors
could, where possible and in accordance with the recipient's national priorities,
support cross-sectoral programmes and projects, which can meet the goals
of more than one instrument. At a minimum, cross-sectoral assessments of
projects should be carried out.
To what extent does donor coordination work in practice
and through what types of arrangements? Is coordination country-led at
present? What new mechanisms, if any, might assist in the coordination
of donor activities to support nationally set priorities.
Can a range of examples of cross-sectoral projects
Regional cooperation on problem assessment, and the identification
of priorities and appropriate solutions can facilitate cost-effective donor
programmes at the regional level, and promote regional economies of scale.
A good of deal of activity in support of the agreements already takes place
at the regional and subregional level. Efforts to promote coordinated implementation
of the agreements should utilise as far as possible these existing arrangements.
- Regional research and monitoring centres: Development
of regional or subregional research centres focusing on specific issues
of priority to the region could provide coordinated monitoring and assessments.
They could also contribute towards the building of local capacity and centres
- Regional clearing houses: Regional and subregional
institutions can act as clearing houses for information and technologies
relevant to regional circumstances, and to coordinate capacity-building
Some key questions:
- What activities can international institutions perform
to promote synergy among the agreements at the international and national
- Where are the overlaps at present? What barriers exist
to coordination? What successful examples of coordination can be identified?
A wide variety of UN agencies and other international
institutions have mandates which address or impact upon the subject matter
of the Rio agreements. Maximising synergies in activities to implement
the Rio agreements requires the activities of these institutions to be
coordinated. International institutions are beginning to explore ways to
coordinate their activities in such a way as to avoid unnecessary costs
and avoid duplication, as well as to exploit comparative advantage. Coordination
between relevant institutions is specifically mandated in the Desertification
and Biodiversity Conventions. Coordination at the international level can
assist a concerted national approach by providing integrated policy guidance,
coherent programming of work, coordinated scientific inputs, and rationalisation
of financial and technical support to promote national implementation.
The following mechanisms, which range from formal to informal,
may be appropriate for coordinating the activities of international institutions:-
- Consolidation of functions: In relation
to issues which the agreements have in common there may be some scope for
horizontal consolidation of functions at the international level.
The GEF can serve as an illustration here, operating (on an interim basis)
the financial mechanisms for both the Climate Change and Biodiversity Conventions,
and with an operational strategy which also covers aspects of land degradation
(see further below). Discussions on harmonising reporting requirements
of various conventions represent another possible area for horizontal consolidation.
Marshalling scientific inputs to policy-making may represent another.
- Inter-agency coordination committees: Formal high-level
coordination committees offer a setting for policy consultation among international
institutions. However, such mechanisms need to be complemented by consultations
at the programmatic and operational levels.
- Liaison and information exchange: Exchange of
data and information on work programmes is crucial in coordinating and
rationalising the activities of international institutions. Developing
a survey of relevant work programmes may serve to rationalise global,
regional and national actions, leading to joint programmes etc.
- Liaison offices: Given the locations of the secretariats
of the three Conventions, a joint liaison office might assist in linking
related areas of work, and provide a common point of access to information
on the three Conventions for Parties. The Conference of the Parties to
the Biodiversity Convention has requested that the feasibility of liaison
arrangements between the Conventions in Geneva and/or New York be explored.
- Joint work programmes/projects/subsidiary bodies:
International institutions are well-placed to carry out specific
tasks directed at a harmonised approach to implementation of the agreements.
In many instances, opportunities exist for the development of joint programmes
or projects between agencies. Activities which might be developed by one
of more conventions or agencies include:
- Information providers: International institutions
can initiate complementary information dissemination programmes to ensure
that information on technologies, know-how and sources of finance relevant
to implementation of the Conventions reaches key actors, including regional
institutions, national governments and the private sector.
- Development of integrated clearing house mechanisms:
Dissemination of technical, scientific and other information relevant
to the coordinated implementation of the agreements could be enhanced through
the development of integrated information systems. For example, under the
Biodiversity Convention a pilot phase for the clearing house mechanism
has been established. Under the Climate Change Convention, CC:INFO exists
to provide information about organisations supporting climate change activities;
CC: FORUM provides an informal consultative mechanism to exchange experiences
on the implementation of projects; and the Secretariat has compiled a database
organising information on mitigation and adaptation technologies.
- Cross-sectoral technology needs assessment: Implementation
of the agreements will frequently require the utilisation of specialised
technologies and methodologies (e.g. for developing greenhouse gas inventories).
A cross-sectoral needs assessment might identify common areas for technical
assistance and capacity-building which need to be addressed at the
- Cross-sectoral scientific analysis: An understanding
of the scientific links between climate change, biodiversity and land degradation
can assist in identifying possible policy synergies in implementing the
agreements. Any such analysis should address underlying causes. An important
initiative in this regard is the proposed UNEP/NASA co-sponsored report
which, it is understood, will, inter alia, synthesise elements of
recent assessments on biodiversity, clchange and ozone to highlight interlinkages.
This type of information might also assist in the development of integrated
data requirements for policy-making and for monitoring the implementation
of the agreements.
- International institutions might also support the development
of geographic information systems to facmultiple impacts analysis
of policies and measures.
- International trade context: The international
context within which the Rio agreements exist has important implications
for their implementation. In particular, implementation of the agreements
may be affected by constraints on domestic policy imposed by rules under
international trade agreements, and by barriers to the transfer of environmentally
sound technologies. Some work is being carried out on the development of
"integrated policy packages" to harness trade to sustainable
development, and to create a "multilateral enabling background"
for national policies and actions in support of the objectives of the agreements.
- Global Environment Facility (GEF)
- As the entity currently operating the financial mechanisms
of the Climate Change and Biodiversity Conventions on an interim basis,
GEF is placed to play a key role in promoting the coordinated implementation
of the Rio agreements. The operational programme of GEF already allows
land degradation (desertification and deforestation) projects to be financed
to the extent that they fall within one of the GEF focal areas, e.g. in
area of biodiversity, the four initial operational programmes identified
by GEF include arid and semi-arid ecosystems and forest ecosystems.
- One of principles set down in the GEF operational strategy
is to avoid the transfer of negative environmental impacts between focal
- GEF reports could explicitly detail linkages and projects
addressing more than one focal area. The Scientific and Technical Advisory
Panel of GEF could be mandated to identify types of projects that might
contribute towards the goals of more than one agreement. Project implementation
reviews could specifically address impacts of the project in terms of each
of the relevant agreements, where appropriate.
- At the national level, cross-sectoral consultative
groups could be established for proposed GEF projects.
These types of cross-sectoral approaches could also be
pursued by other bilateral and multilateral funding institutions.
How far have GEF projects to date succeeded in tackling
V KEY POINTS
It would be useful to identify specific relevant experiences
and examples of successful institutional coordination or barriers to coordination.
Which of the types of mechanisms and activities discussed above might be
useful in the light of particular national circumstances? What other mechanisms
have been tested? The following issues may provide useful starting points
- Key areas for coordinated international actions
- policy development
- technical and financial assistance.
It could be useful to identify a number of key priority
activities which international institutions might undertake to support
coordinated national implementation.
- At the international level, there is a need for
assessment of existing programmes and rationalisation. In this regard,
a survey of relevant work programmes might be useful, to identify
and rationalise potentially complementary or overlapping activities.
- Further exploration is required of the capacity and potential
of regional institutions to act as a focus for coordinated implementation.
An ecosystem approach would suggest that in many instances the regional
or subregional level is the appropriate point for coordination of actions.
Mechanisms for enhancing the role of regional institutions could be explored.
- At the national level, national plans and priorities
provide the basis for action. Coordination of planning processes provides
a good starting point for coordinated implementation.
- What useful insights can be gleaned from the national
planning processes which have been carried out to date? To what extent
do the national planning activities undertaken so far reveal specific priorities
and activities which might allow for the exploitation of synergies among
the agreements. What possible "points of synergy" have been identified?
- Institutions with primary responsibility for implementation
at the policy and operational levels should be multi-disciplinary
and with a cross-sectoral focus.
- While an overarching policy framework is needed,
overarching mega-institutions seem unlikely to offer solutions.
What may be needed instead are clearly focused interventions to
coordinate specific activities and policies, programmes and projects in
specific areas to exploit complementarities.
- It may be useful to identify key areas which the
agreements have in common, and where early coordinated management seems
essential for effectiveness of the agreements.
- A discussion of institutional mechanisms and processes
for coordinating implementation of the agreements should be set in the
context of existing institutional capacity.
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