Charlie Avis: Maria Cristina, you are Chief of the BRS Technical Assistance Branch, please tell us what “capacity-building” means to the Secretariat, and why is it important?
Maria Cristina Cardenas: Thank you. The capacity building programme aims to assist parties to create the enabling environment necessary for enhanced or strengthened efforts to implement their obligations under the conventions. It is important because only by implementing the conventions will we achieve the objectives set out, namely to protect the environment and human health from the effects of chemicals and hazardous wastes.
CA: What are the main capacity gaps at national level, and where are the gaps (geographically) most acute?
MCC: According to the recent needs assessment that was undertaken by the Secretariat, the main needs are in the fields of the environmentally-sound management of priority waste streams, in particular on e-wastes, used lead-acid batteries, persistent organic pollutants wastes and mercury wastes; the collection of data for undertaking inventories for POPs and for reporting ; the monitoring of human health or environmental incidents at the national level, in order to prepare proposals for listing severely hazardous pesticide formulations; the identification of alternative substances or methods to substitute for newly-listed chemicals, and the collection of information for updating NIPs and for reporting.
In terms of the geographical scope the needs vary between and among regions as well as between the conventions themselves.
CA: The webinar series seems to have been especially effective, with more than 1,100 participants benefitting last year alone. How long has the BRS Secretariat been staging webinars?
MCC: The webinar programme was officially launched by the Stockholm Convention Secretariat in February 2011, and one year later it was expanded to include the Basel and Rotterdam Conventions (when the 3 Secretariats were officially merged into one).
CA: Can you please give me a concrete example of a webinar (title, scope, length, speakers, number and origin of participants)?
MCC: Webinars are training or information sessions with a duration of maximum 60 minutes. They are generally organized twice a week on Tuesdays (10-11am) and Thursdays (4-5pm Geneva time) in order to provide an opportunity for participants from different time zones to connect. The sessions are hosted and chaired by Secretariat staff, who introduces the presenter for the session. He or she is usually an invited expert on a specific topic or a Secretariat staff member who responsible for a particular programme. Presentations take about 30 minutes, leaving ample time for participants to ask questions and engage with the presenter. Typically there are 20 to 30 participants attending each webinar session. Of course there are always exceptions and for instance the up-coming webinar sessions on briefings for the COPs are scheduled for 90 minutes. This is to allow for the presenter to provide the full overview of the COPs as well for the participants to be able to ask questions. The majority of our webinar sessions are recorded and thus if you miss one you can always view the recording of the presentations and download the questions asked.
CA: How do you deal with the language needs of participants?
MCC: Sessions are offered in the official UN languages depending on the interest of the topic. Generally we schedule sessions mainly in English, French and Spanish, however we have also run them in Arabic and in Russian. We hope to soon offer webinars with simultaneous interpretation into a second language, after we have overcome some technical obstacles.
CA: What kind of feedback have you received – from participants, from parties, for your colleagues?
MCC: Overall the feedback that we receive from parties and participants is very positive. Stakeholders around the globe are happy to be able to join the webinars and be in touch with experts and the Secretariat in real time without having to move away from their desks. Many find it to be a very useful training tool in addition to the face-to-face activities that the Secretariat organizes.
CA: You mention face-to-face training: In addition to webinars, what else is the BRS Secretariat doing to fill these capacity needs?
MCC: The Secretariat’s technical assistance programme builds upon the strengths and best practices of the individual programmes for the delivery of capacity-building support under each of the 3 conventions. We have four main components: Needs assessment; Development of supporting tools and methodologies; Capacity-building and training activities; Partnerships and regional centres . The idea is to provide a full suite or awareness-raising and technical support across the spectrum of themes and issues of relevance to the conventions, globally.
CA: What plans do you have for the future, for BRS capacity-building?
MCC: We are currently exploring the different avenues offered by technology, in particular we are looking into expanding the use of virtual, electronic, platforms. We will soon be launching online training modules, and we are also working with academia to developing some massive open online courses (MOOCs). In addition we will continue to strengthen our face-to-face training programme by promoting the use of hands-on training methodologies and information exchange during practical training activities and workshops.
CA: And the “flagship” webinar programme will undoubtedly continue. Last question, will capacity issues be prominent at the triple COPs, and if so, where, and what kind of decisions/commitment can we expect?
MCC: Yes indeed, the Webinar programme will continue to run and be strengthened. As for the COPs, capacity issues will be quite prominent, and technical assistance is an agenda item under each of the three COPs. It will be introduced during the joint session of the triple COPs on the first day, and is expected to be discussed in a contact group which will be operating during the 3 COPs. Parties will be provided with an overview of what the secretariat has undertaken since the last COPs as well as a proposed programme on technical assistance for the three conventions. This programme is basically a continuation of the programme which was set up in 2012 after the re-organization of the 3 secretariats into one. It also takes into account the needs assessments that were carried out for each of the conventions in 2014. In addition the Basel and Stockholm COPs will evaluate the performance and sustainability of the 23 regional centres serving the Conventions.
CAA: So, all-in-all, it is expected the COPs will recognise the importance of capacity-building for fulfilling the conventions’ objectives, leading to a renewed mandate for the next two years. Maria Cristina, thank you very much for your time.