Written by Peter Tinkasiimire
After a rather intense and intellectually engaging 4 days deliberating on global dynamics of change together with environmental considerations, day 5 found us at the United Nations Environment Programme offices in the International Environmental House in Geneva. With a key focus on the environment as a global dynamic of change, the international environmental governance perspective was presented in roundtable discussions with experts on the subject. Diana RIZZOLIO, Coordinater of the Geneva Environment Network-a cooperative partnership of sustainable development organizations , non-governmental organizations, local authorities and academic institutions, set the ball rolling with a presentation on her organisational efforts to promote cooperation with various environmental stakeholders in order to promote the global environmental agenda.
Paulina UPLA of the Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding Programme at UNEP gave us deeper insight on the role of natural resources and their interconnectedness with the peacebuiding process especially in vulnerable areas. She also presented an opportunity in the form of Map X, an open data platform that will enhance multi stakeholder participation through data sharing and thus act as a driver for transparency, accountability and consensus building towards promotion of peace and working for sustainability in the extractives sector.
Wahida PATWA SHAH from the UNDP Geneva Office and UN-REDD Technical Advisor also shared her expert knowledge on the priority areas for the UNEP global environmental agenda through digging deeper into the REDD program whose priority is to reduce emissions from deafforestation and forest degradation.
From the discussions, it has become increasingly evident that a multistakeholder approach is key in order to achieve environmental sustainability. In an era of scarce resources for many competing demands, the private sector should have a paradigm shift and play a more active role through part provision of finances for environmental projects as well as embracing greener production techniques. Local Governments typically possess the best knowledge on environmental challenges in their areas and as such should be at the very core of the entire process. Industries who are the biggest environmental polluters in many parts of the world should be engaged in negotiations in order to create a common understanding of the problem and hence plan more sustainable solutions.
Dr. Alexander Hedjazi kicked off the afternoon session with a mock exercise regarding project implementation to de-pollute a river surrounded by many industries. This involved roundtable discussions with the local community, private sector and government in order to have a meeting of minds on the ways forward. A key learning outcome from this remains the critical importance of multistakeholder involvement in finding sustainable environmental solutions.
Further to the above, we had an afternoon visit to River Aire which had historical challenges with heavy pollution and flooding which greatly affected the local communities.
A massive depollution project sponsored by the Swiss Confederation and preceeded by multistakeholder negotiations has resulted in immense benefits for the community. This was seen through the people swimming in the river and connecting with nature, neighbouring agricultural projects and butterflies representing the growing biodiversity.
I feel SDG 15 which is to protect , restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degredation and halt biodiversity loss, has the strongest connection to the global and local actions implemented by UNEP. This is because massive environmental damage has been done in many parts of the developing world. The rate of deforestation has continued to go up due to lack of affordable sources of energy for many poor people. Charcoal remains the affordable option. There is an increase in the number of investors looking for land. This has in many instances led to reclaiming of wetland areas and resulting in floods
Relatedly SDG 12 which is to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns also strongly relates to the environmental governance theme because abuse of SDG 15 as enumerated above has reduced on the land available for agricultural production. It has also bred food insecurity and hunger in many parts of the developing world and hence resulting in unsustainable production and consumption patterns.
Challenges that may impede UNEP`S implementation of the above SDGs may include how to keep focused despite other global challenges. This is because contries face different challenges contextually and as such the level of focus may not be the same for all. For example in countries where there is war, immigration and lack of access to basic services, it may be difficult to focus on environmental sustainability until the root causes of war are addressed.
It might also be difficult to figure out how the SDG`s can be translated into actions that ordinary people can incorporate in their day to day lives and communities. This can be attributed to the fact not all people understand the rationale behind the SDGs and are consumed by different challeges of life like poverty and hence dont really care.
The indicators behind the SDG`s also have a number of gaps that need to be filled. This remains a challenge because adopting so many indicaters-viable and otherwise could end up harming the larger agenda to leave no one behind. This is because many countries for which no data exists are the very ones that require special attention. Further still, UNEP may not have the capacity to put in place systems to mark baselines and to effectively report on progress.
Inspite of the above challenges, the greatest opportunity towards successful implementation of the SDGs lies in the fact that the global challenges of our time are interconnected and are faced by many countries in the world. This is a perfect foundation for setting a shared agenda that all nations and stakeholders can agree to. UNEP should therefore step up their activities to set the global agenda for environmental issues by continuing to bring together various stakeholders so as to discuss and implement sustainable solutions across the planet.
(2) Global Environment Policy Program, The 2030 Agenda, Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within Government, Business & Civil Society ; 2015