19 July 2017
EMG Dialogue Assesses Poverty-Environment Nexus
UN Photo/Logan Abassi
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Discussions on the theme, “Enabling new partnerships – implementing the SDGs at the poverty-environment nexus at country level,” took place on the sidelines of the HLPF.

Tim Scott, UNDP, said poverty-environment nexus (PEN) mainstreaming involves finding entry points at the national level and integrating these concerns at sectoral and sub-national levels.

Tom Bigg, IIED, summarized the discussions as having addressed concepts, countries, coherence, consultation, costs and risks, and challenges.

Two additional nexus dialogues are taking place in the lead up to the December meeting of the UN Environment Assembly.

19 July 2017: The second dialogue of the Environment Management Group (EMG) Nexus Dialogue Series opened on Thursday, 13 July 2017, in New York, US, on the sidelines of the 2017 session of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). Discussions on the theme, ‘Enabling new partnerships – implementing the SDGs at the poverty-environment nexus at country level,’ took place during a full-day technical segment on 13 July. A policy segment convened on 14 July, and deliberations of the dialogue were reported during a side event for the HLPF on 19 July.

Technical Segment

Opening the Dialogue on 13 July, Isabel Kempf, Co-Director, Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI), highlighted the need to foster prioritization of budgeting around the poverty-environment nexus.

Elliott Harris, UN Assistant Secretary General and Director of EMG, noted that through more integrated policies, greater progress can be achieved. He added that the implementation of integrated policies requires partnerships across institutions and traditional boundaries.

Susanna Sottoli, Deputy Director, Programme Division, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), welcomed participants to the UNICEF building in New York, and called attention to the needs of children, who are most often affected by environmental challenges.

Tim Scott, Policy Advisor on Environment, Sustainable Development Cluster, Bureau of Policy and Programme Support, UN Development Programme (UNDP), set the stage for the dialogue in a presentation, titled ‘Mainstreaming poverty and environment linkages in development planning: An overview of progress, challenges and opportunities from the World Summit in Johannesburg to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.’ He noted that, between 2002 and 2017, concepts such as natural capital, ecosystem services, environmental health, environmental hazards, and environmental degradation have evolved. He said poverty-environment nexus (PEN) mainstreaming involves finding entry points at the national level and integrating these concerns at sectoral and sub-national levels. Scott noted that mainstreaming tools for PEN include institutional context analysis, institutional capacity assessments, poverty and social impact assessments, vulnerability assessments, economic valuations of natural resources, public environmental expenditure reviews, and cost-benefit analysis. He called attention to the International Institute for Environment and Development’s (IIED) report, titled ‘Getting to Zero,’ and its recommendations, including removing structural barriers to integrated PEN policies, empowering and protecting the rights of marginalized groups, including women, strengthening capacities for governance, and reforming public administration.

Eric Kemp-Benedict, Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), discussed ‘Poverty-Environment Nexus Opportunities.’ He emphasized that the poverty-environment nexus involves all of the SDGs, and synergies among them offer the space to reach out from existing silos.

Policy Segment

Tom Bigg, IIED, moderated the wrap-up policy session on 14 July. Elliot Harris highlighted the need to approach PEN through partnerships, and said the discussions had addressed how to expand the stakeholder base.

Sebastian Koenig, Senior Policy Advisor, Federal Office for the Environment, Switzerland, emphasized that the search for overlaps and interactions between sectors needs to be as specific as possible, to ensure that a nexus approach contributes to tangible results. He suggested looking for networks and partnerships that already exist.

Bigg noted that recognition of the poverty-environment nexus is not new, citing Indira Gandhi’s statement to the 1972 Stockholm Conference that poverty and need are the biggest threats to the environment. He summarized the discussions during the first day using “seven C’s”: concepts, with the history and fundamentals of the nexus having been mapped out and existing analytical tools to assess trends and needs having been identified; countries, with national level implementation of the nexus approach being the objective of a PEN approach and UN initiatives seeking to develop institutional capacity; coherence, with the nexus approach putting a spotlight on “how the pieces fit together”; consultation, with outreach and incorporating other’s ideas and examples being an important element of the nexus approach; costs and risks, with incorporation of these concepts being key elements for driving change; and challenges, with questions about how the tradeoffs and hard choices would be made so that policy can reflect environment and poverty dimensions. Overall, Bigg cited the need for rigorous, evidence-based evaluation mechanisms to ensure that future policies are informed by practice.

Rasmane Ouédraogo, Poverty-Environment Initiative Coordinator, Burkina Faso, discussed his country’s efforts to institutionalize national SDG implementation, including through the development of guidelines on regional and local plans that are aligned with the SDGs. He indicated that all of the SDGs have been included in 14 sectoral policies, which will be turned into local policies with the involvement of local stakeholders. He noted obstacles presented by insecurity and terrorism in neighboring countries, as well as the challenges that come when staff leave without proper turnovers. He said parliamentarians should be involved in SDG planning, which can help with mainstreaming these issues into budgets.

Elliott Harris highlighted that a focus on payments for ecosystem services can put a value on natural capital and natural assets. Isabel Kempf cited the need to use fiscal policy, and to use the funds received through taxes to invest in policies to address PEN objectives. She stressed, “Complexity is not a pretext for not making an effort,” and said there is enough learning about existing approaches for us to take the complexity of the SDGs seriously while taking action now.

Tim Scott cited the challenge of a growing population, but said hope comes from fact that we know what we need to work on to mitigate the risks and to accelerate action.

Paul Ladd, Director, UN Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), noted that policy coherence can be viewed as a horizontal or vertical approach. He said horizontal policy coherence, in which a policy in one sector is adjusted to achieve impacts in other sectors, is seeing institutional evolution and positive trends. He said the vertical axis is more worrying, with links from national policy and budgets to local policy and budgets not receiving as much support. He called attention to the emerging research issue of the social and solidarity economy, which addresses activities that reduce the emphasis on profits and shareholder returns, such as cooperatives and women’s economic groups.

Erik Chavez, Research Fellow, Imperial College of London, described work to design new supply chains that would be inclusive of smallholder farmers in Africa. He said business realizes that it is vulnerable to climate shocks and that supply chain disruptions cause companies to lose 2-3% annually, providing an opening to address risk and create new financial instruments that would allow capital to flow to environmentally sustainable investments while providing a better deal for supply chains. He said this requires quantifying risk metrics to align the interests of the stakeholders in the supply chain.

An online dialogue on PEN is taking place through 31 July. Two additional nexus dialogues are taking place in the lead up to the December meeting of the UN Environment Assembly. [EMG Nexus Dialogues] [EMG Second Nexus Dialogue Webpage]

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