IUCN hosts UN discussions on making gender environmental benchmark

24 March 2011 | News story

Gender issues could be the common thread running through global environment and development work, and therefore be at the centre of restructuring the UN system to be more consistent across agencies, programmes and conventions.

This was the view of participants at an IUCN-hosted meeting of senior Secretariat staff of the three Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) or “Rio conventions” and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in Costa Rica recently. Several observers, including representatives of women’s organizations and indigenous peoples, as well as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), were also in attendance.

The three conventions are the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the United Nations Convention on Combatting Desertification (UNCCD)

The ‘harmonization’ of work amongst the various components in the United Nations system has been receiving increasing political attention in recent years, with member countries requesting United Nations agencies and organizations to better act more efficiently and as one body on key environmental and development challenges, such as climate change, food security and loss of biodiversity. These calls have escalated ever since the first Global Summit on Sustainable Development was convened in Rio de Janeiro during 1992. Countries preparing for a follow-up Summit, to be held in 2012 and popularly known as “Rio+20”, have therefore placed international environmental governance on the agenda for consideration.

“IUCN can be proud that we have successfully initiated these ground-breaking first step towards jointly showcasing to countries in Rio what we have achieved, rather than what we would like to achieve,” said Lorena Aguilar, IUCN’s Global Senior Gender Adviser. “The significance of this meeting – both for environmental governance, but particularly also for women and men around the world suffering the impacts of environmental degradation – can therefore not be underestimated.”

Proponents supporting the harmonization process of the UN argue that streamlining the work conducted by various UN bodies will have significant benefits, not the least of which would be better resource efficiency and enhancing the effectiveness of implementation on the ground, amongst others. It is argued that such streamlining might ultimately free up much-needed resources for delivery and therefore also scale-up impact. If this goal can be achieved, however, the real winners may not only be the member countries of the UN, but also the most poor and vulnerable women and men, disproportionally affected by compounded environment and development challenges they face on a daily basis around the globe.

Governments and experts currently address the issues considered under the three MEAs (i.e. biodiversity protection, addressing climate change and combating desertification) in separate negotiating meetings, with little attention given to the linkages amongst them and the best practices developed by each. Often, different delegations are sent out to each meeting. This fragmentation has lead to criticism by many civil society organizations and other stakeholders. “For us it is very difficult to distinguish between climate change, desertification and other issues,” commented Yolanda Terrán, representative of the indigenous peoples stakeholder group at the meeting. “To us it is all one [issue].”

“If we can align these processes where it makes sense to do so,” says Sergio Zalaya, Head, Policy, Advocacy and Global Initiatives of the United Nations Convention on Combatting Desertification, “it can only be a win-win situation. United Nations organizations have a very strong mandate to advance issues relating to gender. However, gender should rightfully also be the entry point for any action on sustainable development if it is to be ultimately successful, as women and men have different roles in society. Conducting this meeting between the gender focal points of the three convention Secretariats is therefore a very important departure point for the harmonization process as a whole.”

The workshop, held over two days, was made possible with the financial support from HIVOS – People Unlimited, a development organization based in The Hague, Netherlands.