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UNU International Conference on Synergies and Coordination between Multilateral Environment Agreements

Tokyo, Japan, 14 July 1999 - Statement by Mr. Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director, UNEP, at the UNU International Conference on Synergies and Coordination between Multilateral Environment Agreements.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me tell you how pleased I am to address this distinguished gathering today. Let me first add my own personal welcome and thanks from UNEP's side to the many distinguished guests, friends and colleagues that are here today. A special thanks is due to the United Nations University for organizing this timely and important Conference on Synergies and Coordination between Multilateral Environmental Agreements.

This is a subject that I know is close to the heart of everyone in the room. And it is especially so for the United Nations Environment Programme. This is because UNEP is the home of many of the international environmental conventions that have been negotiated under its aegis and to whom it provides support. UNEP has a particular sense of ownership for these conventions.

The idea of "interdependence" and that of linkages between the various elements of the environment is not new.

When the first satellite pictures of the earth freely suspended in space became available, they not only ushered in a new era for space exploration but also gave rise to a new ecological paradigm for the scientific study of the environment.

A seminal report from the World Commission on Environment and Development captured this sense very well:

"From space, we see a small and fragile ball dominated not by human activity and edifice but by a pattern of clouds, oceans, greenery and soils. Humanity's inability to fit its activities into that pattern is changing planetary systems fundamentally. Many such changes are accompanied by life-threatening hazards, from environmental degradation to nuclear destruction. These new realities, from which there is no escape, must be recognized and managed".

Today, the imperative need to apply this ecological approach in understanding the linkages between diverse issues that afflict us has never been greater. Let us not forget that our civilization has an ecology of its own. And maintaining its balances as well as the smooth functioning of its parts is essential.

The environmental aspects of this model provides examples of why discontinuities and mismatches must be adjusted. Even if the interlinkages between issues seem complex we have to develop tools to help us win the race.

Now we have some understanding of the unique nature of these interlinkages and dependencies.

First, many of the human-induced changes in the global environment are qualitatively different from those seen before. Second, increases in the severity of one major global environmental issue has the potential of exacerbating others. Third, actions to mitigate or adapt to one of the global issues may have collateral benefits or even disadvantages for other issues. Fourth, human needs and environmental issues are closely linked. Simple acts of fulfilling basic human needs could also contribute to the global environmental problems.

The solutions I see in resolving all these interlinked issues lie in recognizing that science and technology, the major forces behind the growth and intensification of these relationships, must be used to gain the knowledge we need to fill the important gaps in our physical and social intelligence. This knowledge must be used to adjust our discontinuities and coordinate our mismatched relationships.

They lie in building institutions to direct science and technology wisely just as those institutions must extract intelligence and wisdom from science and technology.

Unfortunately, efforts and institutions to achieve these goals are being implemented in ways that encourage a single- issue focus. This has set the stage for implementation of measures that advance the attainment of one goal or objective at the expense of others. And the single-issue and sectoral focus creates the potential for unproductive competition among environmental and development goals.

Distinguished delegates,

Synergies between environmental conventions can be achieved through carefully planned interventions that build on interlinkages among environmental issues.

First, policy incentives and information especially on environmentally benign technologies and practices need to be geared towards improving the efficiency of production so that goods and services are supplied with a minimum use of resources. Second, principles of equity must apply to procedural issues - on how decisions are made and the outcomes of these decisions. Both aspects are important because equitable procedures need not guarantee equitable decisions and conversely equitable outcomes could well arise from quite inequitable decision-making processes.

There are a number of specific policy initiatives which could be put in place to ensure improved use and management of natural resources without environmental degradation. These measures can be implemented at the national, regional and global levels.

These measures could include command and control strategies, for example emission controls through emission control standards, banning of specific practices such as driving into the centre of cities or enforcing the use of one family car during peak hours.

The second category of measures can be based on direct market based interventions such as reduction or elimination of subsidies, subsidies to environment friendly production processes, taxes and fees, tradeable permits etc.

The third category of measures has to be the involvement of the civil society in dealing with environmental problems. And, herein lies the challenge for our scientists and policy makers.

Today, science is being challenged to become accessible. Science is being asked to share knowledge and information, to set up monitoring processes with these mandates in mind and share their results. Scientists themselves are identified by some analysts as primary agents of policy change, using the power of knowledge to move national governments towards decisions that they could never have reached under accepted models of rational choice. Scientists have been credited with creating the momentum for worldwide cutbacks on the production and use of ozone depleting substances as well as for multilateral discussions promoting wider consensus on greenhouse gases, biodiversity and deforestation.

In dealing with global interlinkages, time is of the essence. We may in time face irreversible changes as well as many surprises due to the complexity and nonlinearity of environmental changes and their interlinkages. We need to identify cost-effective, prudent steps that can be taken now that will contribute to a more sustainable future. Also because of our imperfect knowledge of the consequences of global linkages we must exercise adaptive management and the precautionary principle. And we must target the most severe environmental threats for immediate action.


At its nineteenth special session, the United Nations General Assembly stressed the fact that "given the increasing number of decision-making bodies concerned with various aspects of sustainable development, including international conventions, there is an ever greater need for better policy coordination at the intergovernmental level, as well as for continued and more concerted efforts to enhance collaboration among the secretariats of those decision- making bodies." It recommended that "the conference of the Parties to conventions signed at the Rio Conference or as at result of it, as well as other conventions related to sustainable development, should cooperate in exploring ways and means of collaborating in their work to advance the effective implementation of the conventions." It further suggested that "the convention secretariats should give consideration to improving the scheduling of meetings, to integrating national reporting requirements and to improving the balance between sessions of the conference of the parties and sessions of their subsidiary bodies..."

Improved coordination, development of synergies, harmonized approaches, and mutually supportive activities have between variously mandated in articles of the multilateral environmental conventions. They have also been supported by the decisions of their Conference of Parties (COP), as well as by other competent bodies.

I am pleased that this issue is receiving considerable attention. And that a concerted effort has been launched to address the linkages between conventions.

In this context, I would like to mention the experience of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). This Panel has been an excellent example of the advantages and effectiveness of operating by networking amongst various scientific bodies.

The landmark report "Protecting our Planet, Securing our Future, Linking Environmental Issues with Human Needs: Opportunities for Strategic Interventions" by UNEP, the World Bank and the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration explores in detail the scientific and policy synergy among the major global environmental conventions. The report was presented during the UNFCCC/COP4 in Buenos Aires in November 1998.

The World Resource Institute in collaboration with the World Bank, UNDP, and UNEP is preparing a contribution to scientific inter-linkages, called the "Millennium Assessment" to be presented at the time of the World Resources Report of 2000. A most interesting synergy initiative is that involving the biodiversity-related conventions secretariats and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) on harmonization of information management for biodiversity-related treaties.

This initiative needs your close support as it intends to eventually expand to include other sustainable development processes such as UNFCCC and the UNCCD. It will also address other policy, technical and institutional functions.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In the past, UNEP has contributed significantly at the global, regional and national levels to the implementation of global environmental conventions.

These include the Vienna Convention, the Montreal Protocol, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Climate Change Convention and the Convention to Combat Desertification. We have also contributed to the implementation of CITES, the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals and the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.

Similarly, UNEP has supported regional conventions, including the Lusaka Agreement on Cooperative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Flora and Fauna and a number of regional seas conventions.

UNEP is currently assisting the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on the development of a global legally binding instrument on persistent organic pollutants.

We have outlined a series of measures for strengthening the role of UNEP in promoting collaboration among these conventions. The overall objective of these actions is the development of coherent interlinkages among them and the reduction of fragmentation of international policy-making. The collaboration will also strengthen the linkages between the various scientific and information monitoring processes that underpin environmental conventions. This will provide a bridge between science, information and policy.

To achieve these objectives, UNEP will organize regular consultations between the Governing Council of UNEP and the bureaus of the Conference of the parties to the environmental conventions. These meetings will enable the identification of cross-cutting issues among their work programmes. They will also assist in proposing common policy and programmatic approaches.

We will also consult regularly with the heads of secretariats of global and regional conventions to strengthen areas of cooperation, defining areas of complementarities and avoid unnecessary duplication and overlapping.

These consultations will also include the heads of scientific and technical bodies of conventions for the purpose of identifying areas of collaboration and synergy among scientific and technical assessments undertaken under the conventions.

I am confident that these consultations will help in the elimination of bottlenecks, gaps and duplication that impact negatively on UNEP support to the efficient and effective implementation of conventions. This will also bridge UNEP programmatic support to the work programme of the various global and regional environmental conventions. This support will take into account the recommendations of the relevant meetings and the decisions of the respective governing bodies.


We have developed our Programme on Environmental Conventions in line with the Report the United Nations Task Force on Environment and Human Settlements. It also takes into account the UN General Assembly resolution on the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21. The raison d'etre of this programme is the development of coherent interlinkages among relevant environmental conventions.

By helping establish synergy and mutual support between the programmes of the conventions and by streamlining UNEP's support to them while focusing on filling strategic gaps and adding value, the Conventions programme will render a valuable service to the conventions, and promote their effective implementation. It will also render a valuable service to the conventions' subsidiary scientific bodies. It will streamline and rationalize their work, taking into account their interlinkages. Finally country parties of the conventions will benefit from the sub-programme's work, since it will provide them with insights and ideas on promising means of streamlining and rationalizing the implementation of conventions.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

UNEP has a particular sense of ownership for the environmental conventions. The environmental conventions advance the overall global environmental objectives and policies within which UNEP has the responsibility to advance the implementation of agreed international norms and policies, to monitor and foster compliance with environmental principles and international agreements.

UNEP remains the principal body in providing policy advice, catalyzing and promoting environmental cooperation and action. It is also concerned with furthering the development of international environmental law, including the development of coherent interlinkages among existing international environmental conventions.

I see the issue of enhancing "synergies" between environmental conventions as central to our core objective of sustainability. "Sustainability" includes not only addressing economic and financial issues, but also environmental and social development issues.

I see the need to continue to evolve our processes as we learn about these issues and their significance to the developing world and to share our experiences with others. This Forum provides us an excellent opportunity to discuss where we go from here. I hope you continue to share with UNEP your successes and challenges in promoting synergies between the multilateral environmental conventions.

Thank You.

Tuesday 03 Aug 1999
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