Celebrating 35 years of compliance mechanisms under Multilateral Environmental Agreements

The role of compliance mechanisms under the eight global Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) administered by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) took center stage today during the United Nations Environmental Assembly Special Session to commemorate UNEP’s 50th anniversary. The side event was co-organised by the secretariats of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions (BRS), the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals, the Minamata Convention on Mercury, and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer.

Kicking off the discussion, the President of the Implementation Committee of the Montreal Protocol, Ms. Guo Xiaolin, remarked on the positive impact of the Protocol, which has prevented damages to human health, ecosystems, agriculture, animals and materials from the harmful UV radiation and ultimately contributed to the avoidance of global warming by 1°C. “The compliance regime of the Protocol facilitates, promotes and enforces conformity with commitments by the Parties through cooperative, non-judicial and non-confrontational processes,” elaborated Guo.

Adopted in 2013, the Minamata Convention is perpetuating the legacy of compliance mechanisms. Executive Secretary Ms. Monika Stankiewicz explained that “Through print and electronic reporting, Minamata presents Parties with opportunities to share not only challenges in the implementation, but also other inputs and feedback on the Convention, all of which help to facilitate compliance.”

Former Chair and Vice-Chair of the Compliance Committee under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, Ms. Jimena Nieto Carrasco, who joined the discussion online from Colombia, highlighted the similar procedures and mechanisms between the Compliance Committees under the Cartagena Protocol and the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources, including reviewing compliance of national reports by Parties every four years.

Next to take the floor was Ms. Amy Fraenkel, the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Migratory Species, which was adopted in 1979. She stated: “We are the only legally binding agreement that deals with the conservation and the habitat of migratory species, and our compliance mechanism is based on dialogue,” adding that “Its goal is not to punish Parties but to look at what is happening on the ground, where there are issues, and investigate what can be done to solve problems.”

UNEP Executive Director Ms. Inger Andersen addressed participants as a guest speaker, and  underlining the importance of compliance by making a connection with the recent historic resolution endorsed by 175 nations to end plastic pollution through the forging of an international legally binding agreement by 2024. Currently, the Basel Convention and its Plastic Waste Amendments is the only MEA addressing plastic waste, legally binding 189 Parties to minimize the generation of plastic wastes, to manage it an environmentally sound manner and strictly control its international trade so that it only take place between consenting nations who can manage it in environmentally sustainable ways.

“We, at UNEP, are tremendously proud to be the host of a number of MEAs. The fact that we have been entrusted with this role represents an understanding not that these Conventions do not have a life and a governance of their own, but that they are stronger when woven into what I often refer to as the ‘broader tapestry’ that UNEP offers,” remarked Andersen.

An interactive dialogue followed between all panellists, also featuring an intervention by H.E. Franz Perrez, Ambassador for the Environment and Head of the International Affairs Division in Switzerland’s Federal Office for the Environment. He noted that “MEAs are at the heart of the international structure that helps us protect the environment”, and went on to attribute their importance to the fact that they are able to advance policies and ensure that these policies are implemented: Ambassador Perrez concluded by saying that “Compliance is in the self-interest of each MEA Party, as it is there to protect the integrity of the system and support implementation.”

Mr. Rolph Payet , Executive Secretary of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions served as moderator for the event. In his closing statement, he emphasized the role of compliance mechanisms in promoting policy coherence and enhancing collaboration: “MEAs are global treaties, and there are a lot of countries, interests, needs and gaps as far as they are involved. For that reason, it is important that we build and maintain compliance mechanisms in the Conventions to ensure that we measure their effectiveness, and keep them alive and relevant.”

More information on the event, including a recording, can be accessed here.