Refining UNEP One Step at a Time

Takeaways from UNEP’s North American Major Groups and Stakeholders Consultation


On February 16 and 17, the 14th Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum (GMGSF) took place in Nairobi, Kenya. The United Nations Environmental Programme organized this forum to create dialogue among stakeholders and distill shared contributions to give to the Governing Council at the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC/GMEF) on Feb 18-22.

After being given the opportunity to participate in UNEP’s North American Major Groups and Stakeholders Consultation at the World Resources Institute, I am eager to know the outcomes of the GC/GMEF. The North American Forum is designed to allow civil societyto pitch in their ideas and opinions on environment-related issues that should be discussed in upcoming sustainability negotiations. Major groups such as women, youth, indigenous people, and farmers as well as representatives from NGO’s, trade unions, business and industry, and scientific communities are invited to attend and contribute their views on matters relating to environmental policy. This meeting was to prepare key messages from North America to be presented at the 14th GMGSF and the 27th Session of the GC/GMEF.

The key messages that were carried overseas are:

Changing the RhetoricThe common words and phrases surrounding environmental issues are overladen with tragedy and guilt. UNEP’s responsibility is to create a new narrative that shifts focus towards opportunity and prosperity and away from shortcomings and problems. The narrative should capture the urgency of environmental degradation but most importantly inspire action through positive language highlighting the “beauty of collaboration and well-being for all on a finite planet.”

Link Environment and DevelopmentThe current narrative not only bums people out, but it is also unclear. Environment andSustainable Development (SD) are sometimes viewed as very separate issues. However, it is a fact that a compromised environment limits development options. Sustainable human and economic development depends on the sustainable use of earth’s finite resources. This link needs to be better articulated and emphasized.

Integration of Ideas To better communicate SD ideas, a new, systemic concept is necessary that takes an integrated approach to development. The concept should acknowledge planetary limits and and focus on sustainable living systems. The old, three pillars concept is outdated and only encourages fragmentation within SD.

Improved integration in policy development is also needed so that separate entities pursue policy goals together, in collaboration, as opposed to working independently.

Science TalkUNEP should continue their efforts to collect, and circulate scientific knowledge. The current science information exchange, UNEP-Live should be improved and other communication technologies should be explored that would ideally link UNEP with the education community. However, significant focus should be on communicating science to policy-makers so they are prepared to make tough decision.

Post-Rio+20 and Post-2015 Agenda

  • More effective engagement of civil society in the outcome processes of Rio+20

  • Commitments made at Rio+20 should be tracked and monitored

  • Global inclusion in the development of SDG’s

  • Integrate Millennium Development Goals with SDG’s with sustainability at the core of each goal

  • SDG’s should include a goal centering around sustainability indicators so process can be tracked

  • SDG’s relating to poverty alleviation should incorporate goals applicable to poverty within all nations

Jeffrey Sachs of The Earth Institute recommends the Sustainable Development Goals (the product of Rio+20) be framed around the definition of, “economic prosperity and the end of extreme poverty, social inclusion, environmental sustainability, underpinned by peace and good governance (public and private)”.

Stakeholder Involvement in UNEPWhile stakeholder engagement has been improved, there is still a lack of diversity in the current practice. While Major Groups attempt to translate messages from real people labeled under women, youth, farmers, etc. a few representatives can’t relay every idea. UNEP accreditation needs to be expanded to include local and national groups as well as the private sector.

Environmental LawUNEP should support efforts to build capacity for powerful and effective environmental governance systems at the national level. UNEP should also assist countries follow and create international environmental laws.

Green EconomyUNEP needs to integrate the Green Economy program with existing programs like Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP). They should also advocate for a new measure of growth, switching from GDP to a metric that accounts for externalities such as pollution and incorporates human well-being. UNEP should educate stakeholders and provide means in which they can turn their communities into green economies.

Governance of High Sea“UNEP should look beyond national state boundaries and address High Seas governance as a priority issue.”

Gender Balance

Equality for women should not be considered a separate issue as it is imperative to create a sustainable future and it must be universally applied.

As the first universal GC/GMEF comes to a close, it will be interesting to see what key messages, generated in D.C. this past December, were translated and given attention. The major discussions were focused around chemicals, waste, and production and consumption but our regional representatives, elected by us at the consultation, will have their time to share the ideas and recommendations curated at the North American regional meeting.

After this weekend, will a new positive narrative hatch? Will policy-makers become more literate in science? I think we can safely say, no, it’s not that easy. But hopefully a little more focus will be brought to these issues and slowly but surely we will find solutions.

By LeAnne Harvey, Human Impacts Institute Environmental Leadership Intern 2012-2013

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