Ways of improving treaty coherence and financing
by Tom McInerney
In the preparations for the Rio conference, one of the key elements of effective environmental governance has received relatively little attention: the importance of implementing existing treaties, and specifically, the need for financing to facilitate such actions. In this context, issues confronting the International Treaty illustrate both commonalities and divergences with other multilateral environmental treaties, which hold broader implications.
At first glance, the International Treaty has a clear advantage over many other multilateral agreements in relation to its Benefit-Sharing Fund. While efforts are still ongoing, evidence suggests that there is momentum and the goals set forth in the Strategic Plan for the Benefit-Sharing Fund should be achieved. Having such funding in place will provide the International Treaty with a degree of financial security that other multilateral treaties would find enviable.
Treaty implementation and aid effectiveness
Yet the situation also raises specific concerns when it comes to implementation, particularly among developing and transition economy countries.
Following the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, donors have decentralized aid dramatically. Much planning for development spending and associated budgeting now occurs at the national level. Many countries now routinely use national development strategies to guide their planning and expenditure frameworks. These strategies serve as the basis for narrower strategies applied to specific sectors, ministries, or other government agencies.
Following the Paris Declaration’s principle of alignment, international development assistance–of which treaty implementation funding is a part–should dovetail with those national strategies and budgets. A key implication of this approach is that all government expenditures should be on budget.
Evidence suggests however that this is often not yet the case.
Bringing treaty financing on budget
In 2010, the OECD’s Environmental Action Program for Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA), reviewed practices involving MTEFs in the environmental sector. One thing the resulting report found was that, notwithstanding aid effectiveness principles, many development funds were still being channeled to governments through extra-budgetary processes. This situation was even more pronounced in relation to dedicated environmental funds.
Of course, from the standpoint of dedicated environmental funds, ensuring that funds flow through established national budget frameworks consistent with relevant government strategies is a challenge. Currently little guidance exists to guide treaties on how to work through these processes and the available information is largely anecdotal.
Benefits of working through country systems
Yet there are tangible benefits for treaty implementation that can result by working through these frameworks.
First, they can realize important synergies by aligning treaty implementation with ongoing government priorities and by complementing existing government activities.
Second, they can avoid dissipating valuable government capacity through duplication and inconsistent programming.
Finally, they can potentially reinforce activities undertaken in relation to implementation of complementary treaties.
Overcoming fragmentation at national level
In this latter regard, while addressing a recent research planning and training workshop convened by Bioversity International in connection with its project on “Strengthening national capacities to implement the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture”, representatives of the eight participating countries indicated that in only one country did the same individual serve as focal point for both the Convention on Biodiversity and the International Treaty. While this division of responsibilities may not be surprising to persons familiar with these treaties, from a broader perspective it does raise questions about ensuring compatibility and finding possible synergies between the respective instruments.
While the issues of coherence in international treaty law and implementation may seem technical and esoteric, they may be of equal if not greater importance to effective environmental governance than some of the proposals being advanced for the Rio + 20 conference. Until we get these details right, we may not achieve the important goals the International Treaty seeks to advance.