Advancing International Environmental Governance: Reform needs and options of UN environmental governance

The United Nations (UN) environmental governance faces fundamental challenges. Some expectations associated with the establishment of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in 2014 have not or hardly been fulfilled. States and stakeholders, for example, criticize the working procedures and decision-making processes of UNEA and its bodies, especially the high number of resolutions, their often low quality and insufficient coordination, and the lack of effective follow-up. As a result, many states and stakeholders are urging reforms.

Against this background, the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) funded a research project initiated by adelphi to advance UN environmental governance. The research aimed at developing reform options that enhance UN capacities to successfully address current and future challenges in its environmental policy. Two questions guided the related research:

  • How can UNEA and its bodies make (more) far-reaching and goal-oriented decisions?
  • How can the work and output of UNEA become more effective and representative?

To address and answer these questions, adelphi first analyzed the structure, terms of reference and important individual outputs of UNEA in several brief research papers. In addition, and based on an analysis of other international organizations, adelphi elaborated and discussed reform options to improve the process in the preparation and negotiation of UNEA resolutions and to increase the participation of delegates in the work of the UNEA. In these analyses, adelphi used relevant academic and policy studies, documents and reports as well as interviews with experts from academia, civil society and politics. In a final study, adelphi finally conducted a quantitative text analysis of all UNEA resolutions, which brought to light various substantive patterns, gaps and need for action, and enabled a methodologically sound assessment of UNEA's achievements and accomplishments. In addition, adelphi organized a workshop to discuss possible substantive priorities for the planned Stockholm+50 conference, which is intended to commemorate the founding of UNEP in 1972.

With this research project, adelphi contributed to the re-emerging debate on the further development of UN environmental governance. The focus was on proposals for adapting the working and decision-making procedures of the UNEA and its various bodies, as well as an assessment of the UNEA's achievements and accomplishments.