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MEA Bulletin

Guest Article

6 June 2006


By Arvind Anil Boaz, Director General of SACEP, Pradyumna Kumar Kotta, SACEP, and Makiko Yashiro, UNEP1

In response to the rapid increase in the number of global environmental issues, more than 500 Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) have been established in the past few decades. As each MEA is designed customarily to address specific environmental issues, some of them contain objectives and measures that interrelate or sometimes overlap with each other. In order to address these issues and improve efficiency, various efforts have been made at the international level to promote collaboration among MEA Secretariats and other international organizations when developing and managing MEAs that contain similar objectives. However, the challenge still remains at the national and regional levels, where the actual implementation of MEAs takes place and transboundary environmental issues are addressed. Thus, there is a strong need for enhancing capacities of countries to manage this increasing number of MEAs in a synergistic manner, including through a regional framework that enables countries to share their experiences and information, and receive timely technical assistance and capacity development opportunities.

To address these challenges at the national and regional levels, a series of initiatives have been conducted in South Asia, under the facilitation of the South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP), in close collaboration with the United Nations University (UNU), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and other international and regional institutions. First, in 2004 and 2005, national case studies on synergistic management of MEAs were conducted in Sri Lanka and Pakistan by UNU and SACEP, in close collaboration with the respective governments. The studies assessed various efforts made in the two countries for the promotion of synergistic approaches and effective management of MEAs, as well as challenges and capacity needs2. Furthermore, a review of existing capacity development initiatives and clearing house mechanisms (CHMs) on MEAs in South Asia was conducted by UNU and SACEP, with support from the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka. The results of this review indicate that, although various support mechanisms have been established at the regional level, it is necessary to further strengthen those mechanisms and provide technical assistance to countries on cross-cutting issues and capacity development opportunities on the integrated management of MEAs3.

Based on these findings, regional workshops were held in 2004 and 20054 to bring countries together to discuss challenges and opportunities for strengthening coordination and mutual support of MEAs, and to strengthen regional partnerships for capacity development on MEAs in South Asia. During the workshops, representatives of the governments, as well as international and regional organizations, identified a range of capacity needs faced in the region, summarized as follows:

1. Institutional coordination

There is a lack of institutional coordination in the management of MEAs at the national level. Efforts have been made to reduce institutional overlap, and strengthen communication and cooperation among different agencies, by establishing special coordinating bodies. However, the establishment of new coordinating bodies often causes problems, such as opposition from existing agencies, due to territorial disagreements over resources and mandates.

2. Information management                                                 

Countries lack appropriate information management systems, which are designed to promote sharing and dissemination of information among relevant agencies and accumulate and store institutional memory. There is a critical need to establish effective mechanisms to manage MEA related information, such as national and regional CHMs.

3. Financing                                                                                            

Countries have difficulties due to lack of steady financial resources, and experience delays in receiving and processing funds for project implementation. Limited coordination among environmental projects implemented through different agencies frequently leads to overlaps and depletion of financial resources. Poor coordination with and among donors and regional agencies was also identified as a challenge to overcome.

4. Capacity development and awareness raising

Countries generally face a continuous lack of human and technical capacity in the negotiation, planning, and implementation phases of MEAs. Difficulties in retaining skilled and experienced personnel were also identified as a challenge. A need for developing long-term capacity development plans, and raising awareness of high level decision makers on MEA-related issues, was also highlighted.

5. Regional cooperation

The importance of promoting regional cooperation and partnerships was repeatedly emphasized during the workshops. Under active facilitation of key regional organizations, in particular SAARC and SACEP, dialogues among countries need to be promoted, in order to identify regional priorities and develop common positions when negotiating and implementing MEAs. Regional partnership frameworks are also effective in providing training, information and policy support requested by countries in managing MEAs.

To address these challenges, a series of action plans was developed. One of these was a proposal to establish the Regional Network of Centers of Excellence for Inter-linked MEA Capacity Building in South Asia, which aims to strengthen cooperation among existing Centers of Excellence on MEA-related issues at the regional and national levels, allowing designated Centers to provide timely technical and capacity development assistance to countries. This proposed network also aims to develop a knowledge base of best practices related to the effective and integrated management of MEAs, and enhanced information sharing among countries, through the development of CHMs on MEA-related activities in the region.

To date, a number of Centers of Excellence have been established at the regional and national levels in South Asia to address specific environmental issues. However, there has been limited horizontal cooperation among these Centers. While some countries have significant experience and a knowledge base, such as India where nine official Centers of Excellence related to MEAs have been established, others have just started to work toward establishing such Centers. As the region shares a number of common global and regional environmental issues, the proposed network is expected to contribute significantly to strengthening capacities of existing regional and national centers, promoting information exchange and collaboration among countries in managing MEAs together, and allowing them to be linked with networks in other regions.

Currently, countries in the region, under the facilitation of SACEP and other key organizations such as UNU and UNEP, are working together to develop a proposal to be submitted to the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The approach taken and the issues to be addressed build upon the initial results of the National Capacity Self-Assessment (NCSA), a GEF-financed programme aimed at strengthened national capacities for managing global environmental challenges. All SACEP member states are currently conducting their NCSA and endorsed jointly aiming for a regional approach.

For further information about the initiatives, please visit:

1 The author was previously with the United Nations University (UNU) and involved in the Inter-linkages Initiative, before taking a post at the Untied Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in February 2006.

2 Results of the studies are summarized in the following reports: UNU 2004, “Sri Lanka Case Study on Inter-linkages among MEAs: Results of the Questionnaire Survey”, and UNU 2005, “Pakistan Case Study on Inter-linkages among MEAs”. Reports are available at: http://geic.hq.unu.edu/

3 Results of the review are summarized in the following report: UNU 2005, “Review of Existing Capacity Development Initiatives and Clearing House Mechanisms on MEAs in South Asia (2005). A report is available at: http://geic.hq.unu.edu/ 

4 Brainstorming Workshop on the Development of a Regional Partnership for Integrated Capacity Building for Multilateral Environmental Agreements in South Asia”, 28 June to 1 July 2004, Kandalama, Sri Lanka, and “Inter-linkages: Regional Workshop on Integrated Capacity Development for MEAs in South Asia”, 14-16 February 2005, Colombo Sri Lanka.

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