UNEP Plans for New Policy on Disclosure Behind Schedule

7 January 2014

By Toby McIntosh

The United Nations Environmental Programme has yet to produce a disclosure policy mandated by its governing body in early 2013, but it’s coming soon, a UNEP spokesman said.

The promised disclosure policy is “stuck” in the office of UNEP legal division, according to one observer who has spoken with UNEP officials about it.

A UNEP spokesman, however, told FreedomInfo.org that a draft “is currently undergoing review.” “The current timeline aims for a preliminary version of this document to be released by the end of February,” Public Information Officer Michael Logan wrote FreedomInfo.org.

Environmental activists are eager for more transparent policies to emerge.

The Council in February set a “by 2014”deadline to draft policies to “ensure the active participation of all relevant stakeholders.”

Besides mandating a new access policy, the Council asked for creation of  a process for stakeholder accreditation and participation, “mechanisms and rules for stakeholders’ expert input and advice,” and “working methods and processes for informed discussions and contributions by all relevant stakeholders towards the intergovernmental decision-making process.” Also “by 2014.”

On this, Logan wrote FreedomInfo.org that UNEP has initiated a process to develop new mechanisms for stakeholder engagement at UNEP, addressing
inter alia, accreditation and participation, mechanisms for expert input and advice and working methods and processes for informed discussions and
contributions by all relevant stakeholders towards the intergovernmental decision-making process.” More information can be found here.

“With input from civil society and governments, UNEP has developed a draft stakeholder engagement policy. This policy will be discussed by UNEP’s Committee of Permanent Representatives and the final version will be endorsed by the United Nations Environment Assembly in June 2014. Major Groups and Stakeholder have been invited to provide input and comments to this draft policy.,” Logan said.

Advocates Hope for More Disclosure

Environmental advocates have in recent years placed a stronger emphasis on advocacy for transparency and advocacy in national and international arenas affecting the environment. A UNEP disclosure policy could be “a real game changer,” commented one such advocate.

Some manage to get UNEP materials informally through contacts, having found official channels obstructed. One person reported waiting for three months just to get a request acknowledged.

Carole Excell, Senior Associate of the Access Initiative at the World Resources Institute in Washington, told FreedomInfo.org:

This new initiative by UNEP could be a real game changer. Rio +20 resulted in decision–making that supported having UNEP make real commitments to increase its transparency and participatory processes. We are eager to participate in commenting on the new policy which we hope is innovative and progressive. The policy should apply broadly to the whole of the UNEP programme and hopefully it can then be influential or adopted by Convention secretariats Including the UNFCCC and others.

Expert Group Backs Reform

UNEP in January of 2013 convened an expert group whose critical report that includes many ideas on improving participatory processes.

On transparency, the report concluded, “The general feeling was that transparency is a very important element to improve, even though UNEP is relatively good in this regard.”

The report also says that “it is very difficult to find documents relevant to policy work as they are not all located in one place.”

“A transparency agenda was noted to be critical to facilitate continuous release of information and ensure a culture of transparency within the Programme,” according to the report, which goes on to make specific recommendations. It states:

 Participants identified a number of gaps to be filled:

 a. There is currently no policy or standards for release of information or embargo of documents (this was recognized as a high priority).

b. There is no recognition by UNEP of the right of access to information –which is a human right.

c. At all stages of engagement major groups, civil society and stakeholders need access to information, such as in:

i. Notice of meetings

ii. Agenda setting

iii. Draft decisions

iv. Implementation

v. Progress and Accountability

d. NOTE: Practice is currently uneven and often at the discretion of the Chair.

e. A clear process of managing release of information by UNEP to appropriate sectors is important to have the greatest impact.

f. Streaming and other forms of proactive release of information, together with clarity, is important ( e.g. too many websites and databases);

g. Open meetings are a critical component of providing access to relevant timely information.

h. UNEP needs to have a process to determine what types and forms of technology are best to be used in which situations to provide greater access to information.

i. Translation of documents into all UN languages will assist in providing access to information.

 The report goes on to suggest the elements of a good disclosure policy, such as “express and strictly limited” exemptions.

It also proposes creation of a “one stop shop” for information “about projects and programmes that would benefit from stakeholders’ engagement in and the forms and types of engagement available.”

Council Seeks Changes

The Governing Council of the United Nations Environmental Programme Feb. 22, 2013, agreed to create an access to information policy and increase participation of stakeholders and civil society. (See previous Freedominfop.org report.)

Paragraph 17 of the Governing Council decision document states: “Decides to enhance transparency and openness in its work and in this regard request the Executive Director to establish a written access-to-information policy.”

The draft decision was adopted by the Governing Council in Nairobi after encouragement by an information group of nongovernmental organizations calling themselves the environmental democracy group. (The official text of Decision 27/2: Implementation of paragraph 88 of the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, begins on page 25 of the full record of the meeting.)

UNEP’s movement follows up on paragraph 88 of the Rio+20 outcome document promoting transparency. The recommendations resulted from the meeting of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) held June 20-22, 2012, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

At the same meeting in Nairobi, the Governing Council made decisions on a variety of other structural and procedural matters.

Participation Standards Adopted

Other conclusions related to pubic participation.

One of these states that the governing body “will ensure the active participation of all relevant stakeholders, particularly those from developing countries, drawing on best practices and models from relevant multilateral institutions and will explore new mechanisms to promote transparency and the effective engagement of civil society in its work and that of its subsidiary bodies, inter alia by:

 (a) Developing by 2014 a process for stakeholder accreditation and participation that builds on the existing rules of procedure and takes into account inclusive modalities of the Commission of Sustainable Development and other relevant United Nations bodies;

(b) Establishing by 2014 mechanisms and rules for stakeholders expert input and advice;

(c) Enhancing by 2014 working methods and processes for informed discussions and contributions by all relevant stakeholders towards the intergovernmental decision making process;

NGOs Offered Proposals

Before the meeting, the NGOs submitted proposals, not all of which were adopted. They suggested:

Proposal to the UNEP Governing Council from NGO Major Group for Implementing Para 88(h) on Transparency and Stakeholder Engagement in UNEP

The NGO Major Group proposes the following text for inclusion, as appropriate, in the decisions of the Governing Council relating to UNEP Institutional Issues:

Noting the mandate deriving from the Rio+20 Outcome document for a new and strengthened UNEP to take a leadership role in improving transparency and public participation;

Noting in particular paragraph 88h of the Rio+20 Outcome Document, which seeks to ensure the active participation of all relevant stakeholders, drawing on best practices and models from relevant multilateral institutions and exploring new mechanisms to promote transparency and the effective engagement of civil society;

Taking further note of the “Principles on Stakeholder Participation in UNEP” adopted at the 14th Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum held on 16-17 February 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya, and the report of the Expert Group meeting on “Models and Mechanisms of Civil Society Participation in UNEP: Building on The Experiences of Multilateral Organisations” held from January 22-23 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland;

Decides on the following initial steps to implement paragraph 88(h) of the Rio Outcome document:

1.  To set up a working group tasked with reviewing and developing proposals for strengthening the existing mechanisms for public participation in all UNEP meetings, processes and bodies (including through the final stages of decision-making) at all levels, in accordance with the “Principles on Stakeholder Participation in UNEP” referred to above, and taking into account the analysis referred to in paragraph 3 below. This group will operate with the full participation of all stakeholders, and will prepare its conclusions and proposals with a view to adoption at the next meeting of the Governing Council;

2.  To mandate the Executive Director of UNEP to issue a public disclosure and access to information policy, produced with the full participation of all stakeholders, which should be in place by the time of the next meeting of the Governing Council;

3.  To mandate the Executive Director of UNEP to conduct a detailed analysis of other mechanisms and models of participation, including best practices in other fora, with the full participation of stakeholders and seeking the cooperation of relevant inter-governmental organizations;

4.   To request the Executive Director of UNEP to take all possible steps to improve practices and guidelines regarding public participation in the planning and implementation of programmatic activities and to report to the next Governing Council on the steps taken in this regard;

5.  To mandate the Executive Director of UNEP to ensure the full participation of all stakeholders through the UNEP Major Groups and Stakeholder Branch and to provide adequate resources for this purpose.

Rules Favor Open Meetings

Under existing procedural rules, the UNEP General Council meetings, and those if its subsidiaries, “shall be held in public unless the body concerned decides otherwise.”

“All resolutions, recommendations and other formal decisions of the Governing Council, as well as its reports to the General Assembly and other documents, shall be made available in the languages of the Governing Council,” the rules state. UNEP translates into the six official UN languages.  Distribution to members of the Council and member states of the UN is assured the rules, not pubic dissemination. However, many documents are available on the UNEP website.

The procedures do not appear to address draft documents.

Under Rule 65, “Sound records of the meetings of the Governing Council and of its sessional committees shall be kept by the secretariat in accordance with the practice of the United Nations. Such recording shall also be made of the proceedings of any subsidiary organs when they so decide.”

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ABOUT IFTI WATCH

In this column, Washington, D.C.-based journalist Toby J. McIntosh reports on the latest developments in information disclosure in International Financial and Trade Institutions (IFTI).
Contact: freeinfo@gwu.edu or
1-(703) 276-7748