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"The environment is where we all meet; where all of us have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share."

Lady Bird Johnson,  Former First Lady , USA

Reimagining Environmental Multilateralism

Rwanda Environmental Management Authority

"Reimagining Environmental Multilateralism" is an ambitious initiative led by the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University, in collaboration with the Rwanda Environment Management Authority and with the generous support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Central to this initiative is the Knowledge Network, encompassing national officers from approximately 12 to 15 small states. These representatives will engage in a mix of virtual and face-to-face meetings to articulate their respective countries' environmental priorities and collaboratively shape a unified agenda for the 2024 UN Environment Assembly and the 2024 Summit of the Future


As global environmental challenges accumulate, the necessity for cooperation and effective multilateral institutions becomes increasingly evident. Despite the inception of the contemporary environmental governance system five decades ago, and the subsequent growth of involved institutions and commitments, environmental challenges persist and escalate. The 2022 UN report titled "A Breakthrough for People and Planet" underscores the imperative of revitalizing faith in multilateralism and highlighting the environment within this framework.


Larger states, which account for the majority of global consumption and emissions, traditionally bear the responsibility for initiating multilateral environmental endeavors. However, our initiative shifts the focus to the impactful leadership of small states—those that remarkably "punch above their weight." These states, while grappling with challenges like climate change impacts and funding constraints, have historically showcased proactive engagement and inventive policy-making. Notable examples include Malta's initiation of discussions on anthropogenic climate change, the vocal advocacy of the Maldives and the Marshall Islands in climate negotiations, and Rwanda and Peru's leadership in plastic pollution regulations.


These small states' soft power, influence, and active multilateral engagement have proven indispensable for equitable and effective governance. Collectively, they wield significant influence, underscoring the need to prioritize their voices in our quest for global environmental solutions.


Our goal is to create a Knowledge Network to facilitate knowledge generation and exchange about small-state institutions, processes, and performance on multilateral environmental agreements. The creation of new knowledge and new networks will empower small states to maximize their ideational resources, take the initiative, and exercise leadership both individually and collectively. The project will also serve as a platform for formulating a clear vision and a common agenda for the 2024 UN Environment Assembly and the 2024 Summit of the Future, contributing to the development of a compelling environmental multilateralism agenda. 


Through consistent interactions in an open environment, we seek to facilitate connections among states that would improve both ability and ambition. To this end, we aim to: 


  1. Create a cadre of small state ambassadors on environmental multilateralism who can support each other to strengthen their collective role and impact in environmental negotiations and performance.  

  2. Empower small states to launch new initiatives globally and improve the implementation of environmental commitments nationally. 

  3. Enhance South-South cooperation among small states. 


Creating opportunities to connect with similar states will strengthen the voice and influence of small states in multilateral environmental negotiations. For example, AOSIS, the Alliance of Small Island States formed in 1990, enabled South-South cooperation on the environment by creating joint positions and proposals, advocating for these states’ specific needs in global climate governance, and amplifying their concerns at a global level. Similarly, we seek to foster solidarity and cooperation as well as the sharing of knowledge to enable small states to address common environmental challenges collectively. 

The Environmental Conventions Index

At the heart of our methodology is the Environmental Conventions Index, a robust tool designed to assess the degree to which nations fulfill their global environmental responsibilities. Through comparative analysis across various timelines, the ECI offers a comprehensive view of country performance in meeting environmental obligations. Awareness of a nation's performance across diverse indicators is fundamental to promoting effective environmental multilateralism. By equipping countries and communities with this knowledge, they are empowered to take the helm and lead in environmental initiatives.

Our initiative further amplifies the effectiveness of the ECI by establishing a knowledge network. The aim is twofold:

  • To bolster trust among key stakeholders.

  • To bridge the existing chasm between academia, governmental policymakers, and stakeholders in environmental multilateralism, especially in countries poised and committed to leadership.

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