Socio-ecological Union

Enhancing Civil Society Engagement in the Work of UNEP
Strategy Paper for CPR

3. Needs & Options for enhanced civil society participation in UNEP's work

3.1. Policy

a) The core need in the area of policy development is to provide much more effective mechanisms for ensuring a high calibre contribution of civil society to UNEP's policy formulation processes. Such a mechanism should guarantee the CSO voice will be heard, even though they do not have a vote on the final decision. The principles of access to information and participation in decision making need to be central to the CSO engagement policy. This implies that all documentation is available to accredited CSOs, measures are in place to ensure capability of CS to participate in decision-making, mechanisms are agreed to ensure policy decision making takes account of CSO contributions, and CSO official contributions receive substantive response.

b) To address these needs it is proposed that civil society organizations be afforded a more institutionalized relationship with the GC and the secretariat through a high-level body of representatives modelled on the Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GMEF). This body, to be called tentatively the Global Environmental NGO Forum (GENGOF), would meet in parallel with the GMEF, and also have joint meetings with GMEF.

The GENGOF would consist of representatives of civil society as described under Institutional Options (section 3.4), and in addition to regularly conferring with the GMEF, would be empowered to present draft decisions to the GC (a maximum of five per session). Such draft decisions would go before the GC only if democratically endorsed by the members of the GENGOF. The GENGOF would not have a vote in the final decision, but may be asked by the chair to respond to questions raised during plenary discussion of the draft decisions. Through such a mechanism UNEP would be able to guarantee that policy proposals from civil society are given full consideration. This guarantee, in turn, would significantly strengthen the motivation of civil society to engage in serious policy dialogue with UNEP. It will also address the issue of UNEP's lack of presence at the national and sub-regional levels (as mentioned in 2.2 f).

c) The report of the Secretary General's Task Force on Environment and Human Settlements identified the need to engage civil society in global policy processes, and this has been carried forward in the current deliberations on International Environmental Governance. UNEP's input to these discussions needs to be informed through extensive dialogue with CSOs and the private sector. Although this is already happening to a large extent, in future such dialogue on the external governance environment - as well as internal - could be greatly facilitated through a body such as GENGOF. For example, they could nominate members to the IEG.

d) The principle of major groups' engagement in implementation strategies is already enshrined as policy , but has not been systematically mainstreamed, and should be addressed by re-visiting the policy statement to ensure it provides clear enough direction to the secretariat to ensure that all programmes and projects take into account opportunities for multi-stakeholder approaches, including participation of major groups in design, implementation and monitoring/evaluation.

e) Accountability and learning frameworks are needed to guide future policy development with respect to civil society engagement. Robust mechanisms for monitoring/evaluating quality and impact of multi-stakeholder approaches should be established. This would include substantive reporting on progress to be received and considered by the GC/GMEF.

3.2. Legislative Issues

a) Section 69 of GC Rules of Procedure needs revision in order to achieve changes in policy processes, as well as other institutional arrangements recommended in this report. Specific changes should include the following:

(i) As the restriction to international NGOs is inappropriate, categories of groups to be allowed observer status should include International NGOs, representatives of civil society networks (including national level designated reps), national/local NGO members of global multi-stakeholder networks dealing with environmental policy, national NGOs with documented contributions to global environmental policy processes, and NGOs accredited to CSD or an international environmental convention.

(ii) Oral statements from CSOs to be guaranteed equitable time slots during the session, in order that they be taken into consideration by government delegations; at least one CSO statement at/near the beginning of government statements to be afforded.

b) An amendment will likely be required to allow the tabling of a limited number of draft decisions proposed by the GENGOF (see 3.1.b).

c) Accreditation and assessment procedures need to be revised in order to (a) align with the revised Section 69, and (b) to provide a basis for strengthening the quality of input from CSOs to policy development and expand the range of potential implementation partners. By viewing accreditation and assessment procedures as a facility in the engagement process beyond mere participation in governance activities, it takes on a much broader role as, in a sense, a gateway to engagement. Well formulated assessment criteria can assist UNEP to identify CSOs with capacity and areas of technical expertise that can be valuable for programme implementation. It will be important, therefore, that the NGOs/CS Unit, Infoterra/UNEP.Net, the CSO working group, and regional offices contribute to the development of such criteria.

3.3. Programmatic issues

a) As already mentioned, a more systematic implementation of the UNEP NGO policy needs to be pursued, to ensure that inclusion/consideration of major groups in design of activities is a standard requirement. In line with the policy recommendation (see 3.1 выше) programme/project planning procedures would require documented consideration of how civil society and private sector should participate in the various stages of the activity.

b) UNEP.Net can be a prototype for modalities to guarantee independent voice and participation by civil society, as well as an opportunity for capacity-building and fostering national and regional networking.

UNEP.Net is the global environmental information portal being developed by UNEP in cooperation with a diverse range of partner institutions worldwide, and non-governmental organizations have a key role to play in this implementation process. An important component of the UNEP.Net implementation strategy will be the re-engineering of UNEP's current environmental information networking activities that are supported by a diverse range of institutions at the global, regional, sub-regional and national levels.

UNEP.Net is providing national NGOs with a practical mechanism to promote their activities and joint cooperation with UNEP. However, UNEP needs constructive feedback as to how the NGO section of the country profile can evolve into a comprehensive NGO bulletin board on UNEP.Net that facilitates a two-way information exchange process between UNEP and NGOs at the national level as recommended in the UN Secretary-General's Task Force on Environment and Human Settlements.

UNEP.Net will be underpinned by a metadata tool called The Environment Directory which is being developed with funding from the GEF. The Environment Directory can be used to develop and manage an authoritative database on NGOs. Global, regional, sub-regional, national and even local NGOs can register themselves in the Environment Directory. The NGO Liaison Office will have a powerful decision-making tool to assess the comparative strengths and weaknesses of NGOs working at all levels and identify those that can be engaged in the delivery of UNEP's programme of work.

c) Improving the effectiveness of CSO participation will require strengthening capacity to participate, especially for NGOs from developing countries and from Central/Eastern Europe and newly independent states. Two main areas of capacity-building are: skills to contribute to policy dialogue, and skills in project design and management.

With respect to the latter, UNEP training projects (e.g. in environmental law) should accommodate CSO participants, and training programmes can be developed targeted specifically at CSOs, such as in monitoring MEA implementation, advocacy and awareness raising. With respect to the former type of training, the NGO and Civil Society Unit should develop this, possibly in collaboration with NGLS. If such training were conducted as part of periodic civil society meetings, the cost implications would be minimal.

d) UNEP staff need to be more aware of how to optimise engagement with civil society/private sector, including recognizing benefits of engagement, assessing partner capacity, designing/managing multi-stakeholder processes, etc. This function can also be assumed by the NGO and Civil Society Unit, with a particular focus on staff identified in other divisions as focal points for CSO issues (see below). Staff members in regional and out-posted offices will also require this sort of training.

3.4. Institutional/governance issues

a) The Global Environment NGO Forum (GENGOF) will be established to advise the Executive Director and the UNEP Secretariat on an ongoing basis, and serve as a forum for input to GC/GMEF discussions as outlined under policy options, above. The structure and composition of GENGOF should be designed in full consultation with UNEP's key CSO constituency, as they have already had much discussion on the matter, and need to buy into it to make it effective. To facilitate discussion on this highly critical institutional innovation, a possible structure is proposed below.

b) Principles of legitimacy and fair representation should guide the selection and rotation of GENGOF members, supported by a mixed, but balanced system of nominating or appointing, as illustrated in the chart. Although no representativity will ever be perfect, focusing on CSO representative networks and umbrella groups as the basis for representation to GENGOF at least allows the existing governance norms within those constituencies to provide a foundation for addressing these norms.

c) A more substantial mechanism for interaction between civil society and the CPR as a subsidiary body of the GC is also needed. Once the GENGOF is established, this body should agree with GC/CPR on modalities for relations with subsidiary bodies (e.g. permanent observer desk at CPR to be filled by a GENGOF designee, with reporting responsibility back to GENGOF).

d) Regional Offices need to be proactive in strengthening and working with regional CSO networks, and these can be encouraged to have an institutional link with GENGOF. Ideally, a substantial portion of the GENGOF should be elected by regional networks, but in some regions this will take time as at present such networks are weak or non-existent. Funding sources will need to be found to support the ROs in this activity, particularly for identifying appropriate CSO partners and convening periodic consultations with them in order to foster regional networking structures.

e) Every UNEP division - as well as regional and out-posted offices - needs to have a focal point for CSO issues. Even though it is argued below that the NGO/CSO office will require increased allocation of resources, this office in isolation cannot achieve the mainstreaming of CSO engagement. Integration will require a focused effort by all parts of UNEP. The NGO/CSO office should therefore coordinate with the different programmes to identify CSO focal points, and establish a working group that will meet on a regular basis to address common issues related to CSO engagement. The working group should also meet periodically with the GENGOF to review and strengthen common strategies. The CSO focal points will also provide support to the monitoring process mentioned above.

f) UNEP's strategy for National Committees should be more responsive than proactive. They should be supported where they are strong and can generate their own resources. Otherwise a strategy needs to be determined to provide a platform for future development of new committees in new countries, based on linkage mechanisms through UNEP.Net and RO strengthening of regional networks. National structures can also feed into policy dialogue through GENGOF.

g) UNEP needs to strengthen the NGO/CS Office with human/financial resources, to act as secretariat for GENGOF and to develop a training program to address internal and external capacity building, as described in 3.3 d) above.

3.5. Outreach

a) There need to be put in place mechanisms for strengthening communication with UNEP's civil society constituency. When it is fully operational UNEP.Net and the Environmental Directory should provide the primary contact base for such communication. The NGO/CS Unit should be responsible for providing regular communication to this contact base on matters of interest to the constituency. There are numerous communication tools that can be utilised to strengthen the engagement of civil society, and the NGO/CS Unit will need to design a comprehensive strategy to fulfil its outreach potential.

b) In order that UNEP's outreach to civil society becomes more than simply an information dissemination process, but rather a mechanism of engagement through which organizations interact in dialogue with UNEP and with each other, share information and identify emerging issues, the NGO/CS Unit will have to explore with different programmes strategies and options to accomplish this. Critical sections to engage in this discussion would be regional offices, Infoterra/UNEP.Net (which could provide a platform for this kind of information sharing), the youth programme of the Communication Division, the UNEP-GEF office, and GEO.

External stakeholders will, of course, have to be consulted to develop such strategies usefully. Key informants would be the GENGOF members, existing national committees, and current implementing partners with other programmes. Their information requirements have to be identified, and, in particular, problems they may have experienced in the past in accessing information from UNEP. The NGO/CS Unit should conduct a detailed information needs assessment together with the NGO sector. An efficient communication system will be the highway on which effective civil society engagement will be sustained.

c) Many environmental CSOs are involved in awareness raising activities and advocacy. Many are carrying out highly skilled information/ education/communication (IEC) approaches in their own countries or internationally. The collective capacity of civil society to reach the global public is immense, and there is great impact to be obtained through working collaboratively on IEC initiatives. All outreach activities, if possible, should engage CSO/private sector partners for design and implementation of joint action strategies.

3.6. Consultative

a) Many of the options and strategies outlined above imply greater and more meaningful consultation with civil society. While certain institutional changes will provide a basis for this, there are many opportunities for consultation outside of these formal structures. Policy formulation needs to be informed through stakeholder dialogue and consensus building, as do good project design and implementation.

b) Opportunities for exchanges need to be created, such as through dialogue sessions during GC meetings. The proposed joint meetings of the GENGOF and the GEMF will serve to promote the commitment to inter-sectoral dialogue in the pursuit of sustainable development. But to achieve meaningful impact, the principle of consultation has to be mainstreamed at all levels of the organization. This means that consultation modalities have to be designed and implemented for GC subsidiary bodies such as the CPR, and for operational structures in the secretariat as well.

3.7. Finance:

a) The level of commitment to civil society engagement will be reflected in resource allocations. Although it may not be possible to prescribe a base percentage of all programme budgets that should be directed to work with civil society, procedures for programme design and management need to reflect resource allocations. CSO engagement monitoring should include indicators of budget allocations by percentage.

b) A trust fund is likely the only viable way of obtaining the level of resources that will be necessary to support a substantial engagement strategy, including implementation of institutional, capacity building and programmatic measures as described. Such a trust fund should not be designed as a small grants fund to respond to a myriad of CSO projects, as it would be difficult to administer and there are alternative sources for such funding. The trust fund, instead, should be designed for targeted use to support implementation of the larger CSO strategy.

c) Clearly, new resources will be required for the NGO/CS Unit itself in order to build the internal capacity that will be required to support implementation of this strategy.

Next >>