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MEA Bulletin - Guest Article No. 108a - Friday, 28 January 2011
UNEP’s efforts to support compliance with and enforcement of MEAs
By Lara Ognibene, Freshwater and Marine Law and Governance Unit, Division of Environmental Law and Conventions, UNEP
Over the past four decades, the international community has developed and adopted Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) addressing a multitude of environmental concerns from climate change, biodiversity and desertification to hazardous waste and chemicals. It is estimated that there are 700 or more different international (bilateral, regional or sub-regional and global) agreements that govern some aspect of the environment; and several more are still being negotiated at all levels to deal with emerging new issues and issues that are yet to be covered by such arrangements.

MEAs are fundamental for supporting countries to work together on global environmental issues that scientists have drawn to the attention of the globe on the need for regulation for better management. However, the adoption of these instruments is just the beginning of a process: full implementation of their provisions is the crucial challenge that the international community at all levels still continues to face.

International attention is therefore increasingly shifting from development of new agreements to ensuring compliance with and enforcement of existing instruments, as many States are faced with the challenge of implementing their environmental commitments with limited resources and inadequate understanding of the ramifications of non-compliance. In addition to scarce resources and understanding, politicians and public opinion often need to be convinced of an MEA’s importance, considering other pressing national priorities that governments are facing, particularly in developing countries.

As part of its efforts to strengthen the capacity of Governments, civil society and private sector to implement, comply with, and enforce MEAs and to raise the awareness of the importance of this process, UNEP has over the years supported various capacity building and awareness raising activities, including the development of educational materials focusing on the implementation of MEAs.

From 1999 to 2001, UNEP initiated a process that led to the development and adoption of global Guidelines on Compliance with and Enforcement of Multilateral Environmental Agreements. These Guidelines, adopted in February 2002, provide a set of approaches and considerations for countries to take into account as they prepare to and do negotiate, implement and enforce MEAs. The Guidelines are significant for the breadth of their reach, clarity and succinctness of their language.

To complement the Guidelines, UNEP published in 2006 a Manual on Compliance and Enforcement of MEAs that provides specific examples from around the world, gathered and peer reviewed through a series of about ten workshops, on how Governments, NGOs, the private sector, and other institutions have used and learned lessons on the various approaches set forth in the Guidelines. The Manual is meant to be a tool for those governments needing specific approaches for their national or regional purposes for the implementation of MEAs.

The Manual was followed by yet another publication, entitled Compliance Mechanisms under Select Multilateral Environmental Agreements, which offers a comparative analysis of compliance mechanisms and regimes under nineteen MEAs, selected on the basis of their being global in scope, widely ratified and representative of treaty arrangements across environmental management sectors.
In addition, these publications on compliance with and enforcement of MEAs have been recently complemented by a series of negotiation tools that have the objective of preparing negotiators for effective participation in international environmental conferences, including COPs and MOPs, and of ensuring proper follow up of the adopted decisions at the national level. The negotiation tools include: Guide for Negotiators of MEAs; Negotiating and Implementing MEAs - A Manual for NGOs; Glossary of Terms for Negotiators of MEAs; and MEA Negotiator’s Handbook (this tool was jointly developed with the Government of Canada and the then University of Joensuu, Finland).

As part of this continuing effort to highlight the importance of implementation and enforcement, UNEP has recently published and launched, in collaboration with the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law, a university-level course on Compliance with and Enforcement of Multilateral Environmental Agreements. The course, composed of a Lecturer’s Manual and supporting teaching materials (including sample PowerPoint presentations), is designed to provide lecturers and students at university level, but also other institutions of learning at other levels teaching the subject or related topics, with a comprehensive educational tool on the practical aspects and challenges of negotiating, implementing, and enforcing environmental law at the international and national levels. As such, the course and its materials are designed to complement existing courses on environmental law and international environmental law as well as courses on international relations, environmental management and other disciplines linked to the study of the environment. 

Education has always been a priority for UNEP. Its annual training programme with Germany’s Dresden University on environmental management has been ongoing since 1977. Over the past three years, UNEP has also worked closely with over 90 universities across 42 countries in Africa in building a programme for bringing environmental concerns and solutions into higher education. Known as the Mainstreaming Environment and Sustainability in African Universities (MESA), this successful project is currently being considered for replication in Caribbean universities under the Mainstreaming Environment and Sustainability in the Caribbean (MESCA) partnership programme.

Similarly in China, UNEP launched an initiative with Tongji University in May 2002 to create the UNEP-Tongji Institute for Environment and Sustainable Development (IESD) that seeks to develop educational programmes to build research, technical and managerial skills in developing countries. UNEP also has partnerships with the Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, the Institute of Soil Science and Fertilizer in the Shannxi Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the Gansu Research Institute for Water Conservancy.

Over the past seven years, UNEP has organized in partnership with the then University of Joensuu, currently the University of Eastern Finland, a high profile two-week course on international environmental law-making and diplomacy. The Course, based on a specific theme every year, offers lectures by experienced hands-on diplomats, government officials, international civil servants and members of academia, and provides a forum to take stock of recent developments in negotiations as well as in implementation of MEAs and diplomatic practices in the international environmental arena.

UNEP is also strengthening its collaboration with sister UN Agencies and partner organizations, such as INTERPOL, the World Customs Organization (WCO), and the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) to support the implementation and enforcement of MEAs through mainstreaming environmental concerns into the organizations’ respective activities. In particular, UNEP organizes, through the Green Customs Initiative (GCI), regular trainings for customs officers and other enforcement officers to enhance their capacity to detect and prevent illegal trade of environmentally-sensitive commodities covered by relevant MEAs, such as ozone-depleting substances, toxic chemical products, hazardous wastes, endangered species and living-modified organisms.

For further information on UNEP’s publication focusing on MEAs go to

For further information on UNEP’s trainings go to and
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