Alliances between international organizations

Thomas Kolly

Ambassador Thomas Kolly, Swiss Federal Office for the Environment

Ambassador Thomas Kolly has been head of the International Division of the Federal Office for the Environment since November 2005. Before his current assignment, he worked for the Integration Office, the leading Swiss agency responsible for the relationship between Switzerland and the European Union. In his career as diplomat, he has been posted at the Swiss permanent delegation to the OECD, the Swiss Embassy in Washington D.C. and the Swiss Embassy in The Hague. He is a lawyer and has a degree in European law from the College of Europe in Bruges (Belgium).

A diplomatic view

Environmental governance and international Geneva

Our current regime of international environmental governance is both young and very dynamic. It has evolved from the first ad hoc approaches to international environmental policy-making into an intricate multilateral regime addressing global and multi-layered challenges using complex instruments.

This evolution also led to a proliferation of international environmental processes, institutions and agreements. These in turn catalyzed efforts to strengthen coherence and synergies in international environmental governance. Four main efforts in this regard can be identified: the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) after the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, the creation of the Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GMEF) in 1999, UNEP's process for strengthening international environmental governance that culminated in the adoption of the Cartagena decision on International Environmental Governance (IEG) in 2002, and the current efforts within the UN General Assembly to enhance coherence and cooperation in the international environmental regime. These consultations taking place in New York are co-chaired by the ambassadors of Mexico and of Switzerland.

Throughout these processes, four main challenges can be identified: insufficient commitment to international environmental agreements; a fragmentation of the regime, the limited authority of UNEP as the central pillar of this regime, and a structural imbalance between the environment regime and other systems governing trade or development. What is needed is more coherence, comprehensiveness, effectiveness and efficiency. Concrete measures to realize these goals have been identified in the Cartagena decision on IEG.

More ambitious proposals envisage, on the institutional side, transforming UNEP into a UN Environment Organization and, on the policy side, developing a list of Global Environmental Goals to strengthen visibility, focus, commitment and concrete action. It is important that the ongoing process within the UN General Assembly builds on and supports the implementation of the concrete measures agreed upon in Cartagena while at the same time allowing also for a further institutional strengthening of the regime.

In Geneva, the Swiss government has made big efforts to cluster organizations and secretariats of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) into two International Environmental Houses (IEH) situated next to each other on Geneva's Right Bank, as is the United Nations complex. The ongoing synergy process of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions has been greatly facilitated by their co-location in IEH and was mentioned as a model of substantive coordination by the High-level Panel on UN System-wide Coherence in the Areas of Development, Humanitarian Assistance and the Environment.

The UN system-wide coherence exercise reminds us of the importance for the environmental bodies to be in touch with all other sectors and for environmental issues to be streamlined in the activities of the big agencies such as WHO, ILO or WTO. In this respect, Geneva greatly facilitates progress by bringing together organizations. It is the main reason why since 2003 IEH has been hosting the Environmental Management Group (EMG) created by the UN General Assembly. While the EMG is in charge of the difficult task of supporting coordination among UN system components, it is becoming more and more important for these actors to work together with civil society and business. Here again, as this booklet demonstrates it, the Environment Houses and Geneva contribute substantially to global networking in the field of environment and sustainable development.