By Walker Young, GEG Youth Voices Contributor
The Role of Monitoring in Global Environmental Governance
At the 2009 Global Environmental Governance Forum in Glion, Switzerland, former UNEP Executive Director Elizabeth Dowdeswell gave an honest and direct assessment of the challenges which have plagued global environmental governance (GEG) to date, stating that there exist “some real questions about the pragmatism of what we can actually bring about.” Speaking to a room filled with colleagues, academics and other peers from the GEG community, Ms. Dowdeswell lamented the lack of alignment across the various institutions – including UNEP – which facilitate international environmental governance (IEG) and which help state actors to build capacity for better management of the ecosystems within their territories.
Listening to the highlights from the Executive Director’s Panel at the 2009 GEG Forum[i], what is perhaps most striking is the consensus that there is no strategic plan to guide the way forward for environmental governance. When Ms. Dowdeswell claims that “we don’t have either quantitative or qualitative goals that can be measured”, she is confirming that the major GEG institutions have failed to undertake a vital activity during their respective plans of work: establishing a monitoring framework.
Monitoring for Transparency and Accountability
A monitoring plan – complete with objectives, indicators, methodologies for taking measurements, baseline data, and planned results – is absolutely vital if actors at all levels are to be held accountable and transparency is to be attained. The key to establishing such a plan is asking the right questions, such as:
- What are the problems facing us today, and what can we do as a consortium to address such problems?
- Where can our work make an impact?
- Where does it make sense to direct our relative strengths, and what issues play to our relative weaknesses and require additional capacity?
Stakeholders need to have a vision – a target – for what it is they wish to achieve, and then must set the appropriate goals to feed into that vision. Objectives, indicators and other elements of a logical framework will then follow. According to the UNEP Executive Directors past and present, such a vision (or “common purpose” as Dowdeswell called it) – has not yet manifested within UNEP or the broader GEG community.
If the major institutions cannot co-create a shared vision to guide their collaborative work, one can only imagine how nations around the globe can be expected to monitor their own interventions in environmental management. With thousands of decisions agreed to by Member States, governments face a Herculean task to comply with the body of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). Developing countries in particular have the most difficult path forward given the fewer resources at their disposal.
A properly developed monitoring plan is required to know how much progress is achieved towards implementation of such MEAs and the decisions therein. The good news is that there are many knowledgeable people working in private companies, aid agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs) who are well versed at developing strategic plans and implementing monitoring frameworks. Hence, there is a large workforce of skilled people for UNEP and others to draw from to carry out this mission. This type of work is standard fare for multinational corporations and international NGOs alike because it is a fundamental building block in the foundation of success.
The Way Forward
A possible way forward exists in the IEG reform process already underway. An information note from the co-Chairs of the Consultative Group of Ministers or High-level Representatives dated September 7, 2010, titled “Draft Elaboration of Ideas for Broader Reform of International Environmental Governance” presents five reform options. Each of these reform options could stand as a goal within a strategic plan. However, before deciding upon what goals to settle on, the co-Chairs of the Consultative Group would be wise to take a step back and really take the Executive Directors’ comments to heart by co-creating a common vision for UNEP, including the valuable participation from all other stakeholder groups in the process. The vision is needed to inform the goals, and the goals are needed to inform the objectives. This is essential in the recipe for a proper monitoring mechanism to arise.
In tandem, monitoring discipline must be encouraged at the national level, since the national implementation of conventions by respective governments requires reports to be submitted to convention secretariats; the data in those reports will feed into lessons learned for improved coherence and implementation in the broader GEG community. A monitoring framework is only as good as the data fed into it. Without transparent reporting and quality data at the national level, UNEP’s job becomes all the more difficult.
In order to build capacity for monitoring and evaluation (M&E) at the national level, UNEP should put more resources into related technical training of national focal points of the major environmental conventions such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This could be done via regional workshops co-hosted by UNDP. The results-based monitoring framework used by UNDP has been around for some time now, and UNDP has a strong knowledge base in monitoring and evaluation; hence, their assistance in such workshops and technical knowledge transfer would be useful.
There is a common saying in the M&E world: “It’s never too late for a baseline measurement”. Such is not the case in the real world, however, where the threat of runaway climate change is real and “too late” feels like it could be just around the corner. With the current IEG reform process, UNEP is positioning itself to take new baseline measurements in a world that has never been more in need of solutions. Let’s hope that a proper strategic plan is set in motion that allows a transparent monitoring framework to take root and a shared vision to bloom.
[i] UNEP Executive Directors Panel at GEG Forum – June 2009. Video. Accessed 6 Dec 2010. Available from the GEG Project <http://www.environmentalgovernance.org/video/2009/12/exec-dir-video/>
About the Author
Walker Young is the Regional Coordinator of Monitoring and Evaluation for the WWF Greater Mekong Programme Office, which comprises WWF’s conservation work in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. He is also in the process of finishing his M.A. studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, in the field of Environment, Development & Sustainability. His Master’s thesis is an assessment of the relationship of Thailand’s private sector to the national implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity and examines the willingness of the private sector to engage in environmental management projects and public-private partnerships. Walker received his B.A. and B.Sc. degrees from Columbia University in New York.