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  December 1999    

Conference highlights need for environmental agreement inter-linkages
The negative impacts of globalization and environmental damage continue to gain momentum, yet international environmental policy-making remains - as it has been for the past three decades - an ad hoc and reactive process. Development of a synergistic, coordinated approach to worldwide environmental protection has proven to be an elusive goal, with both national and international policy-making typically segregated by topic, sector or territory.

The result of this lack of coordination has been a substantial increase in the number and scope of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), international environmental treaties that sometimes overlap, or even conflict. There is unrealized potential for synergy and greater cooperation that could ease the growing strain on international and national capacities for addressing environmental problems as well as fill the gaps in problem coverage. It was with this latent potential in mind that the United Nations University, in cooperation with the UNU Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU/IAS), the Global Environment Information Centre (GEIC) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), convened an International Conference on Synergies and Coordination between Multilateral Environmental Agreements in July.

The aim of this conference, held at the UNU Centre in Tokyo from 14 to 16 July 1999, was to assist in the development of a synergistic and coordinated approach to environmental policy-making that takes account of the existing inter-linkages between environmental issues. During the three-day event, representatives from international organizations, scholars and other relevant interest-holders discussed a variety of issues related to:

  • creation of greater awareness at public, governmental, and inter-governmental levels about the importance of environmental policy synergies and coordination;
  • identification of existing and potential inter-linkages between existing MEAs;
  • fostering of more effective discussion and interaction among relevant stakeholders; and
  • identification of concrete, feasible mechanisms and "next steps" for moving forward.

Conference participants met in plenary sessions on the first day to hear opening messages, keynote addresses and a panel discussion by the heads of MEA secretariats and other high-level officials. Mr. Kiyotaka Akasaka, Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, who spoke on behalf of Japan Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, stressed that the growing threats to human survival posed by global environmental problems such as atmospheric ozone depletion, climate change, and loss of biodiversity cannot be solved through the efforts of individual nations alone. Since many environmental problems ignore national borders and sovereignty, he urged adoption of a new problem-solving perspective that focuses on "human security" rather than "national security."

UNEP Executive Director Töpfer and UNU Rector van Ginkel
Keynote presenter Mr. Jorge Illueca, Assistant Executive Director of UNEP's Division of Environmental Conventions, speaking on behalf of UNEP Executive Director Klaus Töpfer, warned that "time is of the essence" and underscored the need to identify immediate, cost-effective, prudent steps to target the most severe environmental threats. He outlined UNEP's efforts to promote coordination and collaboration among MEAs, and emphasized that enhancing synergies among MEAs is central to UNEP's core objective of sustainability. The second keynote speaker, Ms. Akiko Domoto, President of GLOBE Japan, cautioned that rapid globalization and changes in social values have decreased the ability of international organizations to address environmental and social problems. She emphasized the need for incorporating efforts to address social problems, particularly poverty and gender equality, into environmental policies if real and lasting solutions are to be achieved.

Hans van Ginkel, Rector of the UNU, moderated the 14 July panel discussion. Panel members highlighted major obstacles to implementing the numerous MEAs, including a lack of human and financial resources, especially in developing countries; the relative weakness of environmental ministries/agencies within many national government hierarchies; fleeting interest by the public, business and governments in specific environmental issues; and the lack of national and international coordination of efforts.

On 15 July and the morning of 16 July, participants broke into five working groups to focus on Scientific Mechanisms, Finance, Issue Management, Harmonization of Information Systems and Information Exchanges, and Synergies for Sustainable Development. Then, on the afternoon of 16 July, participants again gathered on a plenary session to hear reports from each of these working groups as well as an overall report and summary of the conference by UNU Rector van Ginkel.

The conference was in English, with Japanese interpretation provided during the plenary sessions. Reporters from Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) attended all sessions of the International Conference on Synergies and Coordination between Multilateral Environmental Agreements. Their daily summaries of the conference, as well as photos and Real Audio recordings of the panel discussion, are available online at

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