Report on the Special Session of the UNEP Governing Council, Cartagena, February 2002


17 February 2002

Mr. Delmar Blasco, the Secretary General of the Convention on Wetlands, reports from Cartagena, Colombia, on the results of the Special Session of the UNEP Governing Council and the Third Global Ministerial Environmental Forum held there last week, with the attendance of some 90 Ministers of the Environment or their equivalents. From the Ramsar perspective, the three major outcomes of the meeting were: a) the adoption of the recommendations of the Open-ended Intergovernmental Group of Ministers or their Representatives on International Environmental Governance; b) the statement on the contribution of UNEP to the World Summit on Sustainable Development; and c) the adoption of the Guidelines on compliance with the enforcement of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs).

On International Environmental Governance (IEG), the recommendations finally adopted after hard negotiations carried out under the leadership of, initially, the Ministers from Switzerland and Uganda, and, finally, from Colombia and the UK, are not as far reaching as some would have expected. The principle that this was "an evolutionary, not revolutionary" process may have been taken a bit too far! The role of the Governing Council Global Ministerial Environmental Forum (GC/GMEF) would be reinforced (if the Summit in Johannesburg accepts the recommendations), and Ramsar may have an interest in recognising and welcoming this development at COP8. The recommendations in this area say, inter alia, that "the GC/GMEF should identify ways and means to improve and strengthen its interrelationship with autonomous decision-making bodies, such as Conferences of the Parties of Multilateral Environmental Agreements".

On the role and financial situation of UNEP, the recommendations may also represent progress vis-à-vis the current situation, but in both respects some groups of countries were not able (or willing) to go as far as would have been desirable.

In the key area of interest to Ramsar, "Improved coordination among and effectiveness of multilateral environmental agreements" (MEAs), the recommendations are very mild. The text says inter alia that "there is support for enhancing collaboration among MEA secretariats in specific areas where common issues arise" and that "the initiation of pilot projects should be further pursued". The text also says that "periodic review of the effectiveness of MEAs is critical to their success", and it is recommended that "States should have regard for the advisory and non-binding UNEP guidelines on compliance with and enforcement of MEAs", which were approved at this meeting. Ramsar COP8 should consider these guidelines with a view to endorsing them and adding them to the Ramsar Toolkit (the European Union has shown a particular interest in compliance issues in all discussions.) Finally, the recommendations list the areas in which more coordination among MEAs is desirable and affirm that "coordination could be fostered by having the GC/GMEF review the progress made by the COPs of MEAs, with due regard to their respective mandates, in developing synergies in areas where common issues arise".

The text on IEG also includes a section on capacity building, technology transfer, and country-level coordination for the environment pillar of sustainable development, and on the role of the Environment Management Group, which brings together all the UN agencies and the secretariats of the MEAs, including Ramsar.

The Statement of the President of the UNEP Governing Council on the contribution to the World Summit on Sustainable Development contains a number of issues that Ramsar should have an interest in seeing reflected in the results of the Summit.

The Secretary General also reports that the meeting in Cartagena was particularly useful for discussing issues and/or strengthening or establishing contacts with a number of Ministers, including those from Bolivia, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Iran, Mexico, Romania, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Uganda, United States (represented by the Assistant Secretary, State Department), and Venezuela. The SG also had the opportunity to participate in a visit (involving eight Ministers and the Executive Director of UNEP) to the Kogy tribe, in a place deep in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, organized the day after the close of the meeting by the Colombian Minister Juan Mayr (who has been working with the tribe's elders for many years).

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