Advancing International Environmental Governance: Reform needs and options of UN environmental governance

The United Nations (UN) environmental governance faces fundamental challenges. Some expectations associated with the establishment of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in 2014 have not or hardly been fulfilled. Many formally independent institutions with different but overlapping memberships and thematic responsibilities are still competing for resources. While they are eager to maintain their independence, they are also required to cooperate. Moreover, states and stakeholders criticize the working procedures and decision-making processes of UNEA and its bodies, especially the high number of resolutions, their often low quality and insufficient coordination, and the lack of effective follow-up. In addition, with the 2030 Agenda and its environmental dimensions, demands on UN environmental governance have grown considerably. Last but not least, increasing frictions in the multilateral system impact UN environmental governance, too. As a result, many states and stakeholders are urging reforms. The fourth UNEA in March 2019 therefore commissioned the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to prepare an action plan to strengthen UN environmental governance and to submit it by February 2021.

Against this background, the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) funds a project initiated by adelphi to advance UN environmental governance. The project aims at developing reform options that enhance UN capacities to successfully address current and future challenges in its environmental policy. Two questions guide the project:

  • How can UNEA and its bodies make (more) far-reaching and goal-oriented decisions?
  • How can the cooperation between UNEP and UNEA on the one hand and the multilateral environmental agreements on the other hand become (more) goal-oriented and effective?

adelphi addresses and answers these questions in three steps. First, adelphi assesses and summarizes the need for action in a short study. Starting from this, it elaborates and discusses reform options in several short studies. To this end, adelphi identifies measures and mechanisms which can improve the institutional basis as well as the working procedures and decision-making processes in UN environmental governance. These two steps draw on an analysis of related studies, documents and reports as well as interviews with experts. In a final study, adelphi eventually summarizes the need for action, discusses the reform options and formulates policy recommendations.

With this project, adelphi contributes to the renewed debate on advancing UN environmental governance by developing proposals for adapting the working procedures and decision-making procedures of UNEP, UNEA and its various bodies, and for improving the coordination of the numerous UN environmental policy institutions.