Summary report, 2–4 June 2021

1st Global Meeting of National Focal Points under the 5th Montevideo Programme

The three-day online session of the First Global Meeting of the National Focal Points Under the Fifth Programme for the Development and Periodic Review of Environmental Law (Montevideo Programme V) managed to achieve the goals set for it by its Co-Chairs, despite some technical challenges, including connectivity and sound and video quality issues. These goals included: designating a first-ever Steering Committee to guide Programme implementation; adopting the Committee’s work modalities so it can function properly; conducting robust discussions about priority areas, partnerships and stakeholder engagement; and selecting an initial focus area for substantive Programme work.

All participants making interventions praised the swift work of and active engagement in the online session, saying it laid a solid foundation for a decade of work under Montevideo Programme V and saved the Programme from another year lost to delays caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. The First Global Meeting had originally been scheduled to convene in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in March 2020, but was postponed twice due to COVID-19. It was eventually bifurcated into two parts: an online portion in June 2021 to take essential decisions and initiate important discussions; and an in-person portion to further develop the Programme to be convened in early 2022 at a date and location yet to be determined.

The newly appointed Steering Committee will begin work immediately and guide Programme work through the end of the Second Global Meeting tentatively planned for 2023.

The  discussions on possible priority areas for Programme work considered proposals based on a survey of national focal points for eight areas. None were finalized and possible additions or finetuning were proposed. These inputs will be discussed in greater detail at the in-person session in 2022. However, the online meeting did agree on one initial focus area to get Programme work started: legal responses to address the air pollution crisis.

Initial brainstorming on partnerships and stakeholder engagement resulted in a long list of ideas and suggestions. This topic will be explored in greater length during the in-person session in 2022, when participants can consult and network face-to-face.

The online session of the First Global Meeting included representatives from governments, UN entities, other intergovernmental organizations, multilateral environment agreements (MEAs), Major Groups, nongovernmental organizations, academia, and law institutes and foundations. The meeting convened from 2-4 June 2021.

A Brief History of the Montevideo Programme

Since 1982, the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) environmental law activities have been organized and coordinated through a series of 10-year programmes, adopted by the UNEP Governing Council (GC) and later by its replacement, the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA). These programmes, known as the Montevideo Programme for the Development and Periodic Review of Environmental Law (Montevideo Programme), were established for the development and periodic review of environmental law.

The Montevideo Programme has guided the efforts of the international community in developing environmental law that transforms science-based policies into action-oriented rules and standards of conduct. Additionally, a number of MEAs have been conceived under the Montevideo Programme and negotiated under the auspices of UNEP, including the Basel and Rotterdam Conventions.

Key Turning Points

Montevideo Programme I was adopted by the UNEP GC in 1982 as a strategic guidance plan for fulfilling UNEP’s mandate to undertake activities regarding the conclusion of international agreements and the development of international principles, guidelines, and standards. It was divided into five parts: subject areas, objectives, and strategies; elements of strategy; methods of implementation, review, and follow up; general development of environmental law; and specific recommendations for initial action.

Major subject areas included: marine pollution from land-based surfaces; protection of the stratospheric ozone layer; and transport, handling and disposal of toxic and dangerous wastes. Other subject areas included international cooperation in environmental emergencies, coastal zone management, and soil conservation.

Montevideo Programme II was adopted by the UNEP GC in 1993. It was based largely on the requirements outlined in Agenda 21 adopted at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. It was divided into 18 programme areas, which detailed their respective objectives, strategies, and activities for the Programme. These areas included: implementation of international legal instruments in the environmental field; dispute avoidance and settlement; transboundary air pollution control; management of coastal areas; and international cooperation in environmental emergencies.

Montevideo Programme III was adopted by the UNEP GC in 2001. It included 20 components, organized under three main themes:

  • effectiveness of environmental law, which considered capacity building, harmonization and coordination, and innovative approaches to environmental law;
  • conservation and management, which addressed freshwater resources, biological diversity, and production and consumption patterns; and
  • relationship with other fields, which focused on trade, security and the environment, and military activities and the environment.

Montevideo Programme IV was adopted by the UNEP GC in February 2009. It covered 27 programme areas, each consisting of an objective, strategy, and set of actions. These were organized in four clusters:

  • the effectiveness of environmental law, focusing on cross-cutting issues affecting that effectiveness;
  • conservation, management, and sustainable use of natural resources, such as fresh and marine water, aquatic living resources, forests, biological diversity, and sustainable production and consumption patterns;
  • challenges for environmental law, such as climate change, poverty, pollution prevention and control, and new technology; and
  • the relationship between environmental law and other fields, including human rights, trade, security, and military activities.

UNEA-5: The fifth session of UNEA (UNEA-5) in March 2019 requested the UNEP Executive Director to implement Montevideo Programme V through the UNEP Programme of Work for the decade beginning in 2020, and in a manner fully consistent with relevant UNEP medium-term strategies. The UNEP medium-term strategy for the period 2018–2021 identified seven priority focus areas: climate change; resilience to disasters and conflicts; healthy and productive ecosystems; environmental governance; chemicals, waste and air quality; resource efficiency; and environment under review.

The UNEP medium-term strategy for the period 2022–2025 focuses on developing responses and deploying solutions that aspire to achieve three interlinked strategic objectives:

  • climate stability, where net zero greenhouse gas emissions and resilience in the face of climate change are achieved;
  • living in harmony with nature, where humanity prospers in harmony with nature; and
  • towards a pollution-free planet, where pollution is prevented and controlled, while ensuring good environmental quality and improved health and well-being for all.

First Global Meeting Report

On Wednesday, 2 June, Arnold Kreilhuber, Acting Director, UNEP Law Division, opened the meeting and welcomed delegates.

Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director, stressed environmental law is essential to the right to a healthy environment, which in turn is critical for the sustainable development agenda. She called the Montevideo Programme “the flagship” for UNEP and its member states for efforts to strengthen environmental rule of law across the world. She said Montevideo Programme V “has partnership hardwired into its DNA,” making it a true intergovernmental programme that networks national focal points, intergovernmental agencies, MEA secretariats, civil society, academic institutions, and the private sector. She urged all participants to take advantage of the new Law and Environment Assistance Platform (LEAP) and to increase collaboration and engagement among the Programme’s partners “to shift the needle to a sustainable and just future for all.”

Organizational Matters

Kreilhuber noted the Secretariat’s suggestion in the annotated provisional agenda (UNEP/Env.Law/MTV5/GNFP.1/1/Add.1) that the officers that had served as co-chairs and rapporteur during the consultations leading to the preparation of Montevideo Programme V continue in that capacity until the end of the First Global Meeting. Delegates agreed to maintain Tim Epp (US) and Marcello Cousillas (Uruguay) as Co-Chairs, and Kunzang (Bhutan) as Rapporteur.

Co-Chair Cousillas recalled the history of the Montevideo Programme, noting its conception at a meeting in Montevideo in 1981. He observed that Montevideo Programme V technically started in January 2020 but, due to postponements caused by the pandemic, has been unable to get guidance on implementation from national focal points and Programme partners. He stressed the importance of the virtual session for adopting “the necessary institutional decisions and strategic direction” for the Programme to move ahead, including the appointment of a Steering Committee for Implementation and guidance on priority focus areas.

Co-Chair Epp echoed Cousillas’ emphasis on the importance of appointing the committee and providing strategic guidance. He emphasized partnerships as the unique feature of Montevideo Programme V, but expressed regret that full exploration of the potential of those partnerships will not be possible until the in-person segment of the First Meeting is convened in 2022 due to time constraints. 

Co-Chair Cousillas presented the provisional agenda (UNEP/Env.Law/MTV5/GNFP.1/1), which delegates adopted without amendment. Co-Chair Epp explained the proposed organization of work, including informal sessions on Thursday, 3 June, for discussion of possible nominations for the Steering Committee for Implementation. Delegates agreed to the proposed organization.

National Focal Points

The Secretariat presented its note outlining the status of nominations of national focal points (UNEP/Env.Law/MTV5/GNFP.1/3), reporting the designation of 130 national focal points as of 25 March 2021 and six more notified since then. Co-Chair Cousillas invited delegates to provide updates and corrections to the Secretariat in writing.

Implementation of the Fifth Programme for the Development and Periodic Review of Environmental Law

Status of Implementation, Activities, and Funding: The Secretariat presented its report outlining the status of implementation, activities, and funding of Montevideo Programme V (UNEP/Env.Law/MTV5/GNFP.1/2). The Secretariat explained that the pandemic had delayed some aspects of implementation due to the postponement of meetings intended to guide implementation. However, despite this, she said the Secretariat had been able to:

  • conduct outreach to Programme partners;
  • develop communication products regarding the Programme;
  • launch LEAP, the Programme’s “digital backbone,” to coordinate information exchange and activity implementation; and
  • prepare a global assessment of air pollution legislation, a survey of national policy and legislation on the management of different kinds of COVID-19-related waste, and a survey of environmental courts and tribunals.

She provided a presentation outlining the features and functions of LEAP.

Another member of the Secretariat explained that the pandemic had delayed fundraising and that current work under the Programme is being funded by UNEP until donations are made. He reported the Programme has no dedicated funding yet and welcomed any voluntary contributions. He said the Secretariat will examine Programme funding in July 2021 and decide whether to create a separate trust fund.

Priority Areas for Implementation: This agenda item was discussed on Wednesday, 2 June, and Thursday, 2 June. Kreilhuber presented the Secretariat’s proposal for priority areas for implementation (UNEP/Env.Law/MTV5/GNFP.1/4), explaining it is based on a January 2021 survey of national focal points, as well as the three thematic focuses and five cross-cutting activity areas of the UNEP medium-term strategy for 2022-2025. The Secretariat proposed eight priority areas for implementation:

  • legal responses to address the air pollution crisis;
  • legal responses to combat the climate crisis;
  • legal responses to combat the biodiversity crisis;
  • legal responses to strengthen frameworks on environmental crime and environmental liability;
  • strengthening information and data exchange, and raising awareness of environmental law;
  • public participation, access to information, and access to justice;
  • environmental law and the three pillars of the UN Charter; and
  • strengthening education and training in environmental law.

Kreilhuber said these areas would be reviewed and amended as necessary at each biannual meeting of national focal points. He clarified that the task for the online meeting was not to decide on all priority areas, but rather to indicate an initial area or areas for the Secretariat to begin work on. Kreilhuber highlighted the Secretariat’s proposal that the initial focus priority area for implementation should be legal responses to address the air pollution crisis.

Delegates offering interventions generally supported the eight proposed priority areas. The US and Canada proposed all suggested priority areas be discussed in greater detail at the in-person meeting in 2022. Switzerland said the list constituted a “good starting point for discussion,” but should be pared down to become more focused and results oriented. Madagascar said it will submit written comments regarding modifications to the proposed air pollution and biodiversity priority areas.

Brazil suggested that environmental financing be added to the list of priority areas. Panama suggested specifically adding wildlife trade as a priority area due to its implications for human health as illustrated by the current pandemic. Burkina Faso suggested adding waste issues as a priority area, with a focus on international trade in used goods perhaps leading to an international convention on the issue.

Delegates offering interventions supported air pollution as an initial focus, although some advocated for adding other areas for initial focus. Finland praised the initial focus on air pollution as aligning well with the UN Economic Commission for Europe’s work on transboundary air pollution. Sierra Leone supported a focus on transboundary air pollution in implementing the air pollution priority area. Qatar suggested having the priority cover the issues of indoor air quality and air pollution from chemicals.

Uruguay, supported by Argentina, urged also approving the proposed priority area on public participation, access to information and access to justice as an initial focus, stressing the importance of assistance in implementing the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (Escazú Agreement). Saint Lucia, speaking for several Caribbean countries, agreed that the environmental rights and governance priority area was key to their implementation of the Escazú Agreement and should be added as an initial focus, along with the priority area “strengthening education and training in environmental law.” Sri Lanka supported adding these two priority areas as initial foci along with air pollution.

Panama supported biodiversity as an additional initial focus area, with an emphasis on erosion of natural habitats. Palestine suggested environmental crime as an additional initial focus area, with an emphasis on hazardous waste and illegal trafficking of animals and flora.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) stressed that many crimes affect the environment. She highlighted UNODC collaboration with UNEP to produce a Guide on Drafting Legislation to Combat Wildlife Crime now available on the Sharing Electronic Resources and Laws on Crime (SHERLOC) knowledge management portal. She mentioned that similar guides on waste trafficking, illicit fisheries, and illegal mining are under preparation.

Colombia, supported by Argentina, suggested the next areas for focus after air pollution be climate change and biodiversity. Jordan highlighted climate change as a particular concern.

Bangladesh and Qatar reminded participants to focus on the different situations and perspectives of member states while implementing the Programme. Palestine called for development of an “execution plan” for work in agreed priority areas, perhaps by the Steering Committee for Implementation.

Co-Chair Epp said that since this was a virtual meeting, negotiating on all proposals for the Programme’s priority areas was not possible. However, he stressed the importance of giving the Secretariat at least one initial focus area so that it can begin work on a plan of action. He noted broad consensus on air pollution as an initial focus. Delegates agreed to adopt air pollution as the initial priority area.

Co-Chair Cousillas urged delegates unable to make interventions on this agenda item due to technical difficulties, or those which had posted comments and suggestions in the meeting chat, to submit their input to the Secretariat in writing, since only spoken interventions and formally submitted written submissions will be included in the Global Meeting’s report. Both Co-Chairs assured delegates that the subject of priority areas would be further discussed in detail at the in-person session of the Global Meeting in 2022.

Partnerships and Stakeholder Engagement

This agenda item was discussed on Thursday, 3 June, and Friday, 4 June. Co-Chair Cousillas initiated discussions on the issue by noting the emphasis on forming partnerships and engaging stakeholders in the UNEA resolution adopting Montevideo Programme V. He emphasized that the online session of the First Global Meeting could only hold an initial discussion on the issue. However, he promised partnerships and stakeholder engagement will be explored at greater length during the 2022 in-person session, when interested parties can actually meet and network face-to-face.

The Secretariat echoed UNEP Executive Director Andersen’s observation that partnerships and stakeholder engagement is “hardwired into the DNA” of Montevideo Programme V. He outlined steps the Secretariat had already undertaken to advance work on this issue, including:

  • convening an interagency dialogue, titled “Advancing Environmental Rule of Law Together” in November 2019 attended by nine UN entities, seven MEA secretariats, several intergovernmental organizations and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which led to the creation of a group called “Legal Officers Network for Montevideo Programme V.”
  • bilateral briefings in 2020-2021 with various partners; and
  • the creation of a “Partner of the Programme Initiative” to actively seek partners and stakeholders.

He also explained how potential partners can register their interest on LEAP.

All delegates offering interventions stressed the importance of partnerships and stakeholder engagement to the success of Montevideo Programme V.

Switzerland urged the Secretariat to be proactive in seeking partnerships, not just with UN agencies, but also with MEA secretariats, universities, and legal communities. He cautioned against duplicating work already underway by other entities, and instead urged partnerships to promote synergies and share resources.

Sierra Leone, supported by Saint Lucia, suggested requesting that the Secretariat create a working document on building partnerships for implementation at the global, regional, national, and subnational levels, in collaboration with the Steering Committee on Implementation. Other delegates indicated interest in the idea.

Sierra Leone also suggested engaging, educating, and training police and enforcement agencies. Nigeria emphasized engagement with regional and subregional organizations.

Burkina Faso stressed engagement of municipalities, since they administer local surroundings and can play a determining role in the application of environmental rules. He noted several existing platforms for municipalities and local communities, such as the Clean Cities Coalition, and suggested working with them to educate and build the capacities of local governments. Madagascar agreed on the need to work with local governments.

Palestine urged broad engagement, not only with official entities, but also with civil society, academia, professional bodies, such as bar associations, and the private sector. He urged the Programme to include capacity building at the regional and national levels. Namibia agreed on the need for capacity building to support compliance with environmental law, while Côte d’Ivoire lamented the lack of necessary funding to build meaningful partnerships. South Africa offered to extend a training network for judges to judges from other African countries. Zambia proposed inviting all interested potential partners to the in-person session in 2022.

Saint Lucia highlighted the importance of providing support to judicial institutions, and suggested creating a special portal on environmental law aimed at aiding judges and other legal stakeholders. She also flagged the importance of links with, and training in environmental law of, bar associations, legal clinics, and the media. In addition, she suggested:

  • internships for young environmental lawyers at UNEP’s Law Division;
  • monthly dialogues and idea exchanges on environmental law on a social platform that involves judges, lawyers, and law students;
  • exploring synergies between the Montevideo Programme and issues of interest to the business sector;
  • developing synergies with other entities and working groups already addressing environmental law, such as the participants in a process to negotiate a Charter for the Environment;
  • showcasing research on environmental law by students, perhaps through LEAP; and
  • development of environmental law “toolkits.”

Madagascar, seconded by Colombia and Namibia, suggested using synergies with other institutions such as IUCN and human rights organizations.

Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Qatar cautioned that any proposed partnerships with national and subnational actors should be discussed first with governments and should respect the sovereign role of governments in setting and enforcing environmental law.

The Major Group for Children and Youth underlined the importance of partnering with children and youth on environmental law in a meaningful and rights-based way, including them in policy processes at all levels, and empowering them through participation.

The US emphasized: the role of citizen oversight of environmental law formation and enforcement; the role played by Major Groups in UN activities; and the utility of forming issue-specific coalitions with nongovernmental organizations, such as the one seeking the elimination of lead in paint.

Guinea suggested Programme engagement with local religious and political leaders, who are often heeded more than official channels.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo stressed engagement of technical bodies, noting for example the significant role played by the Congolese Association for Environmental Impact Assessment in the application of environmental law in his country.

Cameroon urged that work toward any new MEA involve liaising with the Montevideo Programme.

Steering Committee for Implementation

Designation of the Steering Committee: On Friday, Co-Chair Epp opened this agenda item by recalling the Programme provision providing that Committee member nominations consist of two to three national focal point representatives from each UN region, while ensuring gender balance to the extent possible. He also noted the successful conclusion of informal regional consultations on Committee nominations.

The Secretariat displayed the nominations forwarded by the regional representatives, which were confirmed by acclamation:

  • African States: Gontran Some, Burkina Faso; Sarah Naigaga, Uganda; and Karen Banda, Zambia
  • Asia-Pacific States: Ashfaqul Islam Babool, Bangladesh; Kunzang, Bhutan; and Monyneath Vann, Cambodia
  • Eastern European States: Azra Rogović-Grubić, Bosnia and Herzegovina; and Tanja Pucelj-Vidović, Slovenia
  • Latin American and Caribbean States: Mariano Castro Sánchez-Moreno, Peru; Kate Wilson, Saint Lucia; and Marcelo Cousillas, Uruguay
  • Western European and Other States: Charlotta von Troil, Finland; Vincent Bohnenblust, Switzerland; and Tim Epp, US.

Co-Chair Epp noted that the Committee will serve and guide Programme implementation from the end of the virtual session of the First Global Meeting until the end of the Second Global Meeting.

Modalities of Work for the Steering Committee: Co-Chair Cousillas introduced this agenda item by noting the draft modalities of work for the Steering Committee developed by the Secretariat (UNEP/Env.Law/MTV5/GNFP.1/5). He reminded participants that the Co-Chairs had asked national focal points to provide written comments by the end of the second meeting day.

The Secretariat reported that submissions suggesting amendments had been received from Benin, Burkina Faso, Canada, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jamaica, Switzerland, US, and Zambia. The Secretariat then presented, on-screen, a mark-up of the revisions proposed by the Co-Chairs taking into account member state inputs. She added that the text mark-up was available online on the LEAP website.

In response to delegates’ questions, the Secretariat explained one revision had been made to clarify that Steering Committee members must be designated national focal points. Another clarification concerned the designation of replacements should a member be unable to serve out his or her entire term, and how the change should be communicated to the Committee Co-Chairs.

Several delegates enquired about the working languages of the Steering Committee. The Secretariat confirmed that Committee reports will be translated into all official UN languages, but explained that simultaneous translation at Committee meetings will be subject to the availability of funds.

China asked why its proposed language on Committee provisional agendas be subject to consultation with member states beforehand was not incorporated. The Secretariat responded that its understanding was that Committee members would conduct informal consultations within their region prior to meetings to ensure member state input is considered.

Delegates adopted the modalities of work for the Steering Committee for Implementation as amended during the meeting.

Adoption of the Outcomes and Closure of the Meeting

The Secretariat read the full Co-Chair’s summary of the meeting and said the Rapporteur will finalize and circulate the full report of the online session after the meeting with the help of the Secretariat.

Noting the delay in convening the First Meeting due to the pandemic and the many technical difficulties delegates experienced during the online session, Co-Chair Epp lauded the session for achieving all the goals set for it to get the Programme going: designating the Steering Committee to guide it; adopting the Committee’s work modalities so it can function; conducting robust discussions about priority areas, partnerships and stakeholder engagement; and selecting one priority area as an initial focus for starting substantive work. He said he was “extremely heartened” by these accomplishments, which “ensure we do not lose another year to the pandemic” and provide a solid foundation for a successful decade under Montevideo Programme V.

Co-Chair Cousillas thanked his Co-Chair, the Secretariat, and delegates for their hard work and active engagement. He declared that their decisions at the online meeting “promise much potential” for the Programme and its efforts to create environmental law tools for policymakers and practitioners to use in their daily work. He recalled the origins of the Montevideo Programme and praised how far it has come in its evolution.

Kreilhuber said the Secretariat was very encouraged by the actions undertaken by the online session, “which should not be underestimated.” Noting that World Environment Day would be celebrated globally the day after the meeting concluded, he said it was fitting that Montevideo Programme V is now finally being launched.

Co-Chair Epp closed the online portion of the First Global Meeting at 5:00 pm Nairobi time.

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