Ruth Mackenzie
Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development


The aim of this background paper is to promote discussion of possible institutional mechanisms and processes to coordinate implementation of the Climate Change, Biodiversity, and Desertification Conventions and the Forest Principles (for ease of reference, these will be referred to in this paper as the "Rio agreements"). These discussions form part of a meeting organised by UNDP on synergies in the implementation of the four instruments. Institutional mechanisms and processes for coordination are broadly defined in this background paper, to include types of institutions, arrangements between institutions and, to a limited extent, activities which might be undertaken jointly by institutions in support of a coordinated approach to the agreements. The paper does not attempt to set out solutions to the demands of coordination but to frame the setting within which institutional mechanisms for coordination might evolve and to give practical examples of some available mechanisms and approaches.

The Secretary General's report on overall progress achieved since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) notes that more can be done to make implementation of the three Rio Conventions mutually reinforcing, by addressing substantive linkages and identifying projects that achieve the objectives of more than one convention. Coordinated implementation of the Rio agreements should also be set in the context of the much broader rubric of the Rio conference: the achievement of sustainable development.

Institutional responses to the agreements at all levels need to recognise the interdependence of ecological functions. The holistic, cross-cutting nature of the agreements demands coordination of resources and policy-making. However, to the extent that they relate to the same resources, there may also be tensions or even conflicts between the agreements.


What is synergy? The definition of synergy refers to a "combined effect . . . that exceeds the sum of individual effects". Where international agreements deal with related issues, coordination is desirable to achieve cost-effective "win-win" solutions on the part of governments and international institutions, and to assist in avoiding negative cross-sectoral impacts. Efforts to exploit these synergies should aim at concrete results. The desire for cross-cutting solutions should not lead to a mere re-categorization of existing activities or institutions, but to real efforts at achieving cross-sectoral benefits.

Although the Rio agreements clearly have much in common, there is unlikely to be a perfect template for achieving synergies between them, particularly at the national level. This is in part because of the nature of the agreements - at present, they contain little by way of specific, binding commitments, particularly for developing countries. Rather, specific national priorities and objectives in relation to the agreements are likely to arise through the relevant national planning/strategy processes, which have been taking place or are underway in most countries. What is then "in common" in the national plans and strategies can be identified, and mechanisms sought for coordinating implementation. This is likely to lead each country to exploit different points of "synergy" with the other agreements. - For example, a state which identifies adaptation as a priority activity in its national programme under the Climate Change Convention will be interested in different types of policies and projects to a state which focuses upon emissions reductions.

Thus, there are no quick institutional "fixes" for coordinating implementation of the agreements. Coordination must be nationally driven, and any "synergies" allowed to form to support the nationally set priorities. Synergy and coordination for their own sake (and specific institutional structures for synergy) are unlikely to result in benefits unless directed towards specific goals. While effective coordination can reduce administrative and operational costs, coordination itself imposes costs. This is not to understate the importance of seeking functional coordination, but simply to avoid the addition of further bureaucratic layers in the absence of clear objectives. Overarching institutions which lack a clear focus are likely to prove unwieldy and ineffective. Institutional structures aimed at coordinating implementation of aspects of the agreements are also likely to need to fit into an existing framework established under national environmental action plans (such as World Bank sponsored NEAPs), sustainable development plans under Agenda 21, and other social and economic development plans.


Some general points can be made about possible institutional mechanisms for coordinating an approach to the implementation of the agreements. First, to effectively enhance implementation of the agreements, coordination needs to take place at all levels:

  • international
  • regional (and subregional)
  • national
  • local.

It should also take place in relation to:

  • policy-making
  • programmes and planning
  • projects/management.

Secondly, obstacles to coordination exist at all levels. For example:

  • absence of coherent hierarchy both within the UN system and between the UN and Bretton Woods systems
  • competition for power and resources ("turf")
  • conflicting agendas and lack of prioritisation
  • conflicts between national priorities and global agendas.

Thirdly, an understanding of scientific interlinkages underpinning the subject-matter of the agreements is an important tool in addressing synergies in implementation, i.e. between climate change, land degradation (including desertification and deforestation) and biodiversity loss. Effective mechanisms to analyse cross-sectoral impacts and to feed evolving scientific knowledge into policy-making are required.

Fourthly, and as emphasised above, priority setting at the national level, in an international context, will influence the design of any institutional mechanisms. At the national level, institutions will need to respond to national circumstances and to country-driven priorities. The national planning processes should identify key problems and determine the relative importance of different human activities/sectors. Delivering the objectives of the various national plans should be seen in a holistic manner, and effective ways for linking national sectoral plans to a comprehensive strategic planning framework aimed at achieving sustainable development should explored. The relevant national planning processes are likely to require much by way of common information and inputs - i.e. coordinated planning can facilitate coordinated implementation.


This section looks at possible mechanisms for enhancing coordination among institutions at the national, regional and international levels. It also explicitly addresses coordination of activities of bilateral and multilateral funding agencies relevant to the agreements. The examples given are not intended to be exhaustive, but represent something of a menu. They are not offered as recommendations, but as examples and ideas for discussion.

(i) National

Some key questions:

  • What functions do the national-level institutions need to perform? How do policies in relation to the agreements fit into the broader development priorities of the country concerned? - Fitting the agreements into the broader goal of sustainable development.
  • What needs to be done to identify points of synergy among the agreements at the national level? What obvious potential opportunities are there, and how can these be exploited?

The Conventions call for (or implicitly require) integration of environmental concerns into other areas of policy, but they leave it to country parties to dhow this should be done. They do not yet require the establishment of particular institutions at the national lev. The policy and institutional framework for implementation is for each party to decide. While most countries have in place some form of environment agency or ministry with overall responsibility for environmental issues, a number of relevant activities generally fall within the mandates of other ministries. These might include, for example, forestry, agriculture, and energy. Clearly, coordinated implementation of the agreements (or of any one of the agreements) is likely to require horizontal structures for inter-ministry consultation and cooperation. Mechanisms are not always in place to facilitate this cooperation. Moreover, even where structures are in place, differential power bases of the relevant ministries and the different priorities of the ministries involved may work against synergy.

Institutions for implementation of the agreements will require both technical skills and political authority, i.e. the information and the means to implement effective policies.

  • Coordinating commissions or councils
    • - Sustainable development councils:These are mechanisms through which policy integration is sought. They are generally made up of a number of relevant government departments, and a range of non-governmental actors. They are intended to provide the institutional framework for the development of integrated decision-making and priority-setting. Many such councils are governmental bodies or closely linked to government.
      If they are to work, it is important that sustainable development councils are more than political institutions - they should incorporate specific links to the operational and local levels.
    • - Convention-specific committees:These have been established by a number of countries as part of their response to the Climate Change, Biodiversity and Desertification Conventions, and often to coordinate development of the relevant national plan. They are typically governmental, inter-departmental committees, with technical inputs and input from non-governmental stakeholders. Once again, they operate at the policy level.

    Do such committees or councils lead to operational coordination in practice? What technical input do the committees receive?

  • Focal points
  • The Conventions encourage the designation of country focal points. Common focal points, or close liaison between focal points should be encouraged. The role of focal points at the national level could be upgraded. National focal points should maintain close links with all key players at the country level, including relevant government departments and agencies, non-governmental organisations, the private sector and other stakeholders, as well as relevant donors. The focal point can provide the primary link between international and national action.
    Liaison and consultation between Convention focal points in the light of national plans may reveal some of the points of synergy at the national level in implementation of the agreements. This may give rise to specific operational activities and projects.

    How active a role do country focal points play at present? How might this role be upgraded?

  • National task forces: High-level councils, such as the national sustainable development councils or climate change committees might establish task forces responsible for the following-up specific policy issues. These task forces could be made up of council members and retain a cross-sectoral and multi-disciplinary character.
  • Technical panels: Technical panels or working groups could be established in relation to specific problem-areas to provide policy-makers (e.g. the national committees) with appropriate technical input. These groups should be multidisciplinary in order to undertake assessment of cross-sectoral linkages.
  • Where more than one agency has competence in relation to a particular resource, in the light of the national planning process, governments may consider re-allocating tasks. This might incorporate a delegation of tasks or a lead agency approach. Broader transfers of competence may be preferred where, for example, a large number of ministries are competent with respect to activities impacting upon the management of one resource. Coordination and rationalisation will also be issues in countries where significant authority over relevant resources rests with state/provincial/municipal or local governments.
  • Departmental focal points ("Green Ministers"): Some governments have opted to try to bring an environmental perspective into all activities through appointing "Green Ministers" in all government departments, or by placing officials from an environmental agency in other departments.
  • Joint evaluation of programmes and projects: Planned programmes and projects could be subject to consultation and assessment by other relevant bodies for any cross-sectoral impacts. This might comprise formal environmental impact assessment (see further below) or mandatory formal consultation.
  • Monitoring: Since significant elements of the relevant resource base is common to the agreements, monitoring should be coordinated. This might be done, for example, through an independent environment agency.
  • Identifying key sectoral areas: National efforts at coordination might start with the identification of key sectoral areas in which a coordinated approach is required. Forest management would seem an obvious example here as a focus for early efforts.
  • Local level institutions: Participatory approaches to national planning and priority-setting, encouraged in Agenda 21 are likely to lead to a significant role for local institutions in coordinating approaches to the agreements. Decentralisation seems likely to play a key role in resource management. Local institutions (e.g. at the municipal and village level) are likely to be particularly significant in project planning, and are likely to play an important role in identifying cross-sectoral impacts and benefits. Local level institutional arrangements may be built upon the partnerships developed during national planning processes. A key challenge will be to build operational links between the local and national levels. Examples of successes/failures to date would be useful.

National legal and policy framework

The national legal and policy framework is central to the effective functioning of institutions for implementation of the agreements. Two key devices for achieving the objectives of the agreements are integrated land use management and environmental impact assessment.

  • Planning/land use - Integrated land use planning and management is central to the achievement of the objectives of all four instruments, as a tool for decision-making over competing uses of land. Once again, land use objectives and priorities will emerge at the national level through national plans. Effective institutions will be required to implement land use objectives.
  • Traditionally, environmental impact assessment (EIA) procedures apply to projects likely to have significant adverse impacts on the environment. Extended use of EIA procedures to apply to policies, plans and programmes could be encouraged, taking specifically into account the objectives of the four instruments.
  • Institutions for conflict resolution - where competing land uses are at issue, effective mechanisms for resolving disputes are required.

To implement the Rio agreements, new multilateral partnerships are likely to be required over the long-term, bringing together, for example, national government, multilateral and regional development banks, and the private sector. Regulatory barriers to private investment may need to be re-assessed in the light of this need. New institutional mechanisms at the international and national levels might foster these partnerships.

Multilateral and bilateral donors are well-placed to ensure that their activities contribute to the exploitation of synergies between the agreements.

  • Country level coordination of activities of donors: Mechanisms are requto ensure that donors' activities are complementary. At national level, a coordination mechanism may be helpful to consider programmatic linkages in accordance with nationally set priorities. The recipient government be primarily responsible for ensuring that the activities of donors conform to national plans and priorities. A central national authority or mechanism for coordinating aid might be useful in some instances. This might be linked to national committees for coordinating implementation of the agreements. In any event, once again coordinated planning should be followed up by operational coordination.
  • Another mechanism for assisting in the coordination of activities of donors and development banks may be the establishment of a database of projects and feasibility studies. At the regional or subregional level, a clearing house for projects might be established, to link available funding to action plans, and to enhance possibilities for co-financing. These might also facilitate the involvement of private sector finance. Partnerships between public and private finance may also serve to harness private finance in support of the objectives of the agreements.
  • Cross-sectoral projects and assessments: Donors could, where possible and in accordance with the recipient's national priorities, support cross-sectoral programmes and projects, which can meet the goals of more than one instrument. At a minimum, cross-sectoral assessments of projects should be carried out.

To what extent does donor coordination work in practice and through what types of arrangements? Is coordination country-led at present? What new mechanisms, if any, might assist in the coordination of donor activities to support nationally set priorities.

Can a range of examples of cross-sectoral projects be identified?

(ii) Regional/subregional

Regional cooperation on problem assessment, and the identification of priorities and appropriate solutions can facilitate cost-effective donor programmes at the regional level, and promote regional economies of scale. A good of deal of activity in support of the agreements already takes place at the regional and subregional level. Efforts to promote coordinated implementation of the agreements should utilise as far as possible these existing arrangements.

  • Regional research and monitoring centres: Development of regional or subregional research centres focusing on specific issues of priority to the region could provide coordinated monitoring and assessments. They could also contribute towards the building of local capacity and centres of expertise.
  • Regional clearing houses: Regional and subregional institutions can act as clearing houses for information and technologies relevant to regional circumstances, and to coordinate capacity-building efforts.

(iii) International

Some key questions:

  • What activities can international institutions perform to promote synergy among the agreements at the international and national levels?
  • Where are the overlaps at present? What barriers exist to coordination? What successful examples of coordination can be identified?

A wide variety of UN agencies and other international institutions have mandates which address or impact upon the subject matter of the Rio agreements. Maximising synergies in activities to implement the Rio agreements requires the activities of these institutions to be coordinated. International institutions are beginning to explore ways to coordinate their activities in such a way as to avoid unnecessary costs and avoid duplication, as well as to exploit comparative advantage. Coordination between relevant institutions is specifically mandated in the Desertification and Biodiversity Conventions. Coordination at the international level can assist a concerted national approach by providing integrated policy guidance, coherent programming of work, coordinated scientific inputs, and rationalisation of financial and technical support to promote national implementation.

The following mechanisms, which range from formal to informal, may be appropriate for coordinating the activities of international institutions:-

  • Consolidation of functions: In relation to issues which the agreements have in common there may be some scope for horizontal consolidation of functions at the international level. The GEF can serve as an illustration here, operating (on an interim basis) the financial mechanisms for both the Climate Change and Biodiversity Conventions, and with an operational strategy which also covers aspects of land degradation (see further below). Discussions on harmonising reporting requirements of various conventions represent another possible area for horizontal consolidation. Marshalling scientific inputs to policy-making may represent another.
  • Inter-agency coordination committees: Formal high-level coordination committees offer a setting for policy consultation among international institutions. However, such mechanisms need to be complemented by consultations at the programmatic and operational levels.
  • Liaison and information exchange: Exchange of data and information on work programmes is crucial in coordinating and rationalising the activities of international institutions. Developing a survey of relevant work programmes may serve to rationalise global, regional and national actions, leading to joint programmes etc.
  • Liaison offices: Given the locations of the secretariats of the three Conventions, a joint liaison office might assist in linking related areas of work, and provide a common point of access to information on the three Conventions for Parties. The Conference of the Parties to the Biodiversity Convention has requested that the feasibility of liaison arrangements between the Conventions in Geneva and/or New York be explored.
  • Joint work programmes/projects/subsidiary bodies: International institutions are well-placed to carry out specific tasks directed at a harmonised approach to implementation of the agreements. In many instances, opportunities exist for the development of joint programmes or projects between agencies. Activities which might be developed by one of more conventions or agencies include:

    • Information providers: International institutions can initiate complementary information dissemination programmes to ensure that information on technologies, know-how and sources of finance relevant to implementation of the Conventions reaches key actors, including regional institutions, national governments and the private sector.
    • Development of integrated clearing house mechanisms: Dissemination of technical, scientific and other information relevant to the coordinated implementation of the agreements could be enhanced through the development of integrated information systems. For example, under the Biodiversity Convention a pilot phase for the clearing house mechanism has been established. Under the Climate Change Convention, CC:INFO exists to provide information about organisations supporting climate change activities; CC: FORUM provides an informal consultative mechanism to exchange experiences on the implementation of projects; and the Secretariat has compiled a database organising information on mitigation and adaptation technologies.
    • Cross-sectoral technology needs assessment: Implementation of the agreements will frequently require the utilisation of specialised technologies and methodologies (e.g. for developing greenhouse gas inventories). A cross-sectoral needs assessment might identify common areas for technical assistance and capacity-building which need to be addressed at the national level.
    • Cross-sectoral scientific analysis: An understanding of the scientific links between climate change, biodiversity and land degradation can assist in identifying possible policy synergies in implementing the agreements. Any such analysis should address underlying causes. An important initiative in this regard is the proposed UNEP/NASA co-sponsored report which, it is understood, will, inter alia, synthesise elements of recent assessments on biodiversity, clchange and ozone to highlight interlinkages. This type of information might also assist in the development of integrated data requirements for policy-making and for monitoring the implementation of the agreements.
    • International institutions might also support the development of geographic information systems to facmultiple impacts analysis of policies and measures.

  • International trade context: The international context within which the Rio agreements exist has important implications for their implementation. In particular, implementation of the agreements may be affected by constraints on domestic policy imposed by rules under international trade agreements, and by barriers to the transfer of environmentally sound technologies. Some work is being carried out on the development of "integrated policy packages" to harness trade to sustainable development, and to create a "multilateral enabling background" for national policies and actions in support of the objectives of the agreements.

  • Global Environment Facility (GEF)

    • As the entity currently operating the financial mechanisms of the Climate Change and Biodiversity Conventions on an interim basis, GEF is placed to play a key role in promoting the coordinated implementation of the Rio agreements. The operational programme of GEF already allows land degradation (desertification and deforestation) projects to be financed to the extent that they fall within one of the GEF focal areas, e.g. in area of biodiversity, the four initial operational programmes identified by GEF include arid and semi-arid ecosystems and forest ecosystems.
    • One of principles set down in the GEF operational strategy is to avoid the transfer of negative environmental impacts between focal areas.
    • GEF reports could explicitly detail linkages and projects addressing more than one focal area. The Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel of GEF could be mandated to identify types of projects that might contribute towards the goals of more than one agreement. Project implementation reviews could specifically address impacts of the project in terms of each of the relevant agreements, where appropriate.
    • At the national level, cross-sectoral consultative groups could be established for proposed GEF projects.

    These types of cross-sectoral approaches could also be pursued by other bilateral and multilateral funding institutions.

    How far have GEF projects to date succeeded in tackling cross-sectoral linkages?


It would be useful to identify specific relevant experiences and examples of successful institutional coordination or barriers to coordination. Which of the types of mechanisms and activities discussed above might be useful in the light of particular national circumstances? What other mechanisms have been tested? The following issues may provide useful starting points for discussion.

  • Key areas for coordinated international actions are:
    • policy development
    • science
    • technical and financial assistance.

    It could be useful to identify a number of key priority activities which international institutions might undertake to support coordinated national implementation.

  • At the international level, there is a need for assessment of existing programmes and rationalisation. In this regard, a survey of relevant work programmes might be useful, to identify and rationalise potentially complementary or overlapping activities.
  • Further exploration is required of the capacity and potential of regional institutions to act as a focus for coordinated implementation. An ecosystem approach would suggest that in many instances the regional or subregional level is the appropriate point for coordination of actions. Mechanisms for enhancing the role of regional institutions could be explored.
  • At the national level, national plans and priorities provide the basis for action. Coordination of planning processes provides a good starting point for coordinated implementation.
  • What useful insights can be gleaned from the national planning processes which have been carried out to date? To what extent do the national planning activities undertaken so far reveal specific priorities and activities which might allow for the exploitation of synergies among the agreements. What possible "points of synergy" have been identified?
  • Institutions with primary responsibility for implementation at the policy and operational levels should be multi-disciplinary and with a cross-sectoral focus.
  • While an overarching policy framework is needed, overarching mega-institutions seem unlikely to offer solutions. What may be needed instead are clearly focused interventions to coordinate specific activities and policies, programmes and projects in specific areas to exploit complementarities.
  • It may be useful to identify key areas which the agreements have in common, and where early coordinated management seems essential for effectiveness of the agreements.
  • A discussion of institutional mechanisms and processes for coordinating implementation of the agreements should be set in the context of existing institutional capacity.

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