Climate Change Policy & Practice
‘Working As One’
Peter Doran, Ph.D.
Climate Change Policy & Practice Writer
Richard Sherman
Climate Change Policy & Practice Project Manager and Content Editor
In late July, the UN General Assembly reconvened two of its reform processes to consider the second-order draft of a Resolution on International Environmental Governance (IEG) and the report of the co-chairs on UN System-wide Coherence (SWC). Both reform processes were initiated following the World Summit 2005 and have been constantly evolving over the last three years. Beyond the obvious relevance of a more coordinated and coherent multilateral order, these processes speak to a pressing issue for the future climate agreement: the need for greater coherence or what we are calling ‘working as one.’

In his guest article for this edition, Ahmed Djoghlaf, the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), addresses recent measures to enhance cooperation between the CBD and the UNFCCC with the intended purpose of extracting co-benefits for the biodiversity and climate processes. The need for greater system-wide coherence among multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) often surfaces regarding the need for management of overlaps and interactions between different MEAs or between MEAs and other areas, in particular trade. One general observation is that the actions taken in different decision-making bodies often fail to go hand in hand and miss real potentials for synergies. In the worst case, they may actually work against the objectives of other bodies.

While the problem is well known, the key question still remains: What can be done to avoid conflicting decisions and to exploit synergies and thereby ‘work as one or work smarter’?  In this commentary, we recap some of the emerging IEG and SCW debates to highlight the importance of a climate agreement and wider system that thinks smarter.  Over time we will return to the concept of working smarter, with examples of practices that offer some guidance to the future international climate agreement.  By exploring some of the basic tenets for working smarter and using examples from the CBD and the International Maritime Organization, we highlight the benefits and challenge of the notion of ‘working as one.’

‘Delivering as One’
Debates on system-wide coherence are not new, nor do they take place without controversy. What is new is the emergence of the concept of ‘One UN’ as proposed by the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB)  in a 2005 report entitled One United Nations—Catalyst for Progress and Change, which outlined a commitment for a smart system as the CEB’s contribution to the World Summit 2005. In response, the Summit’s Outcome Document contains numerous calls for greater UN system-wide coherence and includes proposals, albeit controversial, for ‘more tightly managed entities’ in the field of the environment, humanitarian assistance and development.

To advance the Summit’s outcomes, the then Secretary-General established a High-level Panel on SWC, which presented their report to the General Assembly in 2006. The Panel’s Report points out that “‘One’ is a central concept: the UN needs to overcome its fragmentation and deliver as one through a stronger commitment to working together on the implementation of one strategy, in the pursuit of one set of goals.”1 The Panel proposed the “establishment of a ‘One United Nations’ at the country level, with one leader, one programme, one budget and, where appropriate, one office.” The recommendation, which does not enjoy the support of all Member States, led the UN system to initiate a series of eight One UN Pilot programmes. While this process is focused purely at the country level and relates to actions of the UN system, the concept as applied to the climate process may merit further consideration for the idea of working smarter at the multilateral level. As the UN Secretary-General has noted, these new deliberations have “led to a process of rethinking that could potentially strengthen the capacity of the UN to ‘Deliver as one’ in respect of this critical challenge (climate change), particularly in supporting the efforts of member states at the country level.”2

The Coherent Institutional Framework for MEAs
In addition, the Summit’s Outcome Document contains an agreement to “explore the possibility of a more coherent institutional framework to address this need, including a more integrated structure, building on existing institutions and internationally agreed instruments, as well as the treaty bodies and the specialized agencies.” In 2006, the then President of the General Assembly initiated an informal process to assess views and develop a draft resolution. The latest second-order draft, dated 23 July 2008, emphasizes“the need for Conferences of the Parties of MEAs to continue to explore the potential for cluster-wise cooperation among the Agreements including by setting up and intensifying the collaboration in thematic, programmatic, scientific and administrative areas.”3 The first-order draft4, dated 2 May 2008, contained stronger language ‘urging’ rather than ‘emphasizing,’ with the latter being seen as a less controversial and more acceptable option to some, particularly as it relates to the ‘legal autonomy’ of each MEA.

‘Thinking as One’
As previous CBD and UN Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) debates have shown, parties are often divided on the relationship between MEA decision making bodies. While work has progressed under the Joint Liaison Group of the Rio Conventions (JLG), this has been mostly programmatic and UNFCCC Parties have repeatedly opposed some of the JLG’s proposals for greater cooperation at the level of decision making bodies.5 Similarly, the General Assembly IEG process has shown that tensions can emerge between the objective of enhancing cooperation and respecting the legal autonomy of MEAs. This seems to be the main obstacle to working smarter. The co-chairs of the General Assembly process, the Ambassadors from Mexico and Switzerland, make an important distinction and provided welcome advice when they observed that “We should avoid juxtaposition of ‘legal autonomy’ and cooperation/coordination’. The legal autonomy is undisputed in this room, but if we want to set a signal for more coherent environmental governance, we have to make it clear that autonomy must not mean non-cooperation and splendid isolation but goes with interaction and cooperation with other actors.”6

IISD’s recent publication on Global Environmental Governance (GEG) provides further food for thought for an approach to working smarter, which may help to clarify the extent to which a working as one approach could apply to the future climate framework.7 First, IISD’s work underscores the importance of linked-up global thinking and identifies the need to see the GEG system as the “sum of organizations, policy instruments, financing mechanisms, rules, procedures and norms that regulate the processes of global environmental protection.” Second, IISD argues that “full coordination of all activities or all actors is neither possible, nor desirable. The goal, then, is to identify the key areas in which coordination is desirable and feasible, and focus efforts there. The solution may well be in figuring out who can coordinate what best.” Third, and citing the example of when the Montreal Protocol proposed using HFCs as alternatives to CFCs when HFCs were considered greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol, there is a need to avoid sending opposing policy signals to countries that are parties to various intergovernmental agreements. Fourth, IISD has emphasized that all GEG efforts must be for the purpose of improving the actual state of the global environment, which can best be achieved if a systemic, as opposed to a piecemeal, approach is taken.

‘Working as One’
If we look at the CBD COP9 decision on invasive alien species (IAS), we see a precedent for how working smart can address controversial issues by clarifying the mandate of the Convention and deferring them to more appropriate decision making bodies. In the COP9 decision on Invasive Alien Species (IAS), Parties agreed to invite the International Plant Protection Convention, the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures of the World Trade Organization, the FAO Committee on Fisheries, the World Organization for Animal Health and others to note the lack of international standards covering IAS and to consider whether and how to contribute to addressing this gap.

The decision contains several elements that may be useful in explaining a working smarter approach. First, the decision focuses the CBD’s work on complementing the work and mandates of existing and appropriate bodies. Second, it removes the difficult issue of developing international standards and trade-related concerns from COP negotiations. Third, it defers the issue of standard setting to an organization recognized by the World Trade Organization’s SPS, thereby ensuring that any such IAS standards that may be developed would automatically apply to international trade, which should avoid the prospect of the CBD having to confront further trade-related contention on the issue in the future. A further example is the CDB decision to establish an Ad Hoc Technical Group on Biodiversity and Climate Change, with the specific purpose of providing biodiversity-related information to the UNFCCC process.

Another example from the biodiversity sector, particularly at the operational level, is the TEMATEA web-based tool that “structures the multitude of commitments and obligations from regional and global biodiversity-related agreements in a logical, issue-based framework.”8 Created jointly by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and IUCN, in collaboration with the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, IUCN Environmental Law Centre, and MEA Secretariats, the TEMATEA knowledge management framework “provides activity-oriented information on national commitments by identifying and grouping implementation requirements from different agreements on a selected issue,” with the aim of “facilitating a systemic understanding by national experts of their national obligations and commitments in relation to a specific issue.”9

‘Working as Two’
While there are other examples of working smarter, the current climate negotiations will have to deal with the difficult issue of coherence across the multilateral framework. A pertinent example is the ongoing work on regulating maritime emissions currently underway under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The IMO’s work to limit, control and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from ships is expected to be submitted to the Copenhagen Climate Conference as a comprehensive and solid proposal, agreed to by the Member States of the IMO. The IMO has proposed that global control of greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping should be regulated, through the IMO, by a single global regime and remain outside the scope of negotiations towards a future climate agreement. To date, and while no agreement exists, the IMO approach proposes that the framework deal should consider regulations that include the entire global merchant fleet, thus including the emissions for developing country fleets.10 Without prejudging the outcome of the IMO process, the proposal for a global approach that includes all countries is likely to lead to significant political ramifications, particularly as UNFCCC/Kyoto Protocol negotiators continue to grapple with this most contentious of issues.

As in the case of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for regulating aviation emissions, the IMO is a more appropriate body than the UNFCCC to address the issue of maritime regulation. But the CBD example of inviting other more appropriate bodies to address issues on which there is no or limited consensus may not work in all instances for the climate process. It might work for trade-related issues, which many delegations are reluctant to introduce into the UNFCCC, but when it comes to the UNFCCC’s core objective of regulating emissions, the Convention is seen as the central multilateral instrument.11 The UN Secretary-General’s Chair’s Summary of the 2007 UN High Level Event on Climate Change makes the following observation regarding a single multilateral framework:

You have stated once again that the only forum where this issue can be decided upon is the UNFCCC. We need to ensure that such an agreement is in force by the end of 2012. The upcoming Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC should be the starting point for intense negotiations driven by an agreed agenda. These negotiations should be comprehensive and inclusive, and should lead to a single multilateral framework. All other processes or initiatives should be compatible with the UNFCCC process and should feed into it, facilitating its successful conclusion.12

The IMO, and potentially ICAO, roles present a challenge for the concept of working as one or the notion of a single multilateral framework. But this challenge should not be interpreted as divisive; rather it should highlight the important need for parties to the Convention and Protocol to address how actions or decisions taken in other bodies are integrated or reflected in a future climate agreement. It also points to the need for overall political coherence to ensure that the agreed underlying principles on which the UNFCCC and Protocol are based, particularly the core principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, are adhered to.

While the notion of a coherent multilateral framework is not a clearly stated goal of the Bali Action Plan and Road Map, the decision does imply this. It states that the process will be informed by, amongst others, the output of other intergovernmental processes and further identifies the need to strengthen the catalytic role of the Convention. The notion of working as one does not infer a single multilateral framework as a solution, rather it emphasizes the importance of working and acting together. IISD’s GEG conclusions provide some important, but cautionary, advice, namely that “coherence requires reasonable coordination and regular communication among organizations, but does not require a ‘super-organization’, nor does it require a central control mechanism to coordinate every action of every organization in the international system.”

We have highlighted some of the experiences under the CBD and IMO as examples of what could be achieved and what challenges lie ahead. Both examples underscore the advantages of working as one at the intergovernmental level, particularly if this is combined with a sensible division of work among MEAs and related UN-based decision making bodies. However, this requires that parties to the Convention and Protocol clarify their own mandates and technical capacity, as well as clarify the respective mandates of other intergovernmental decision making bodies. It also requires consideration that some issues may be better dealt with by the relevant institutions rather than continuing potentially controversial debates and avoiding political entanglement in the negotiations. Finally, parties will need to resolve how issues addressed in other fora are incorporated or duly reflected in a future climate agreement.
1 UN. 2007. Report of the Secretary-General’s High Level Panel (A/61/583); 20 November 2006; Internet:
2 UN. 2008. Overview of United Nations Activities in relation to Climate Change; Report of the Secretary-General (A/62/644); 10 January; Internet: (accessed 5 August 2008)
3 UN. 2008. Second Order Draft Resolution on IEG; (23 July); Internet:; (accessed 5 August 2008)
4 UN. 2008. First Order Draft Resolution on IEG; (2 May); Internet: (accessed 5 August 2008)
5 See for example, UNFCCC. 2006. Views on the paper on options for enhanced cooperation among the three Rio Conventions; Submissions from Parties; Internet:
6 UN. 2008. Co-chairs Talking Points;
7 Najam, A. Papa, M. Taiyab, N. 2006. Global Environmental Governance: A Reform Agenda; IISD; Internet: (accessed 5 August 2008)
8 See:
9 See for example: Williams, Michael and Marcos Silva. 2006. Strengthening the biodiversity conventions through the strategic use of information; MEA Bulletin; Issue No. 9;  6 July; Internet: (accessed 6 August 2008)
10 CEB. 2008. Summary of Conclusions, CEB First Regular Session of 2008 (CEB 2008/1); 20 May; Internet:; (accessed 5 August 2008)
11 See for example para 20, page 5: UN. 2008. Informal Summary of the Thematic debate: Summary of the General Assembly Thematic Debate “Addressing Climate Change: The United Nations and the World at Work” New York, 11-13 February 2008; Internet: (accessed 5 August 2008)
12 UN. 2008. Chair’s Summary of the UN High-level Event on Climate Change, 24 September; Internet: (accessed 5 August 2008)
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