National Focal Points (NFPs) to the Fifth Programme for the Development and Periodic Review of Environmental Law (Montevideo Programme V) decided to focus the Programme’s work on the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, with a series of cross-cutting activities supporting thematic work. This Policy Brief discusses the outcomes of the NFPs’ recent meeting, previews next steps under the Programme, and touches upon potential implications for the environmental dimension of sustainable development.

The resumed first global meeting of NFPs to Montevideo Programme V convened from 6-9 June 2022 at the UN Office in Nairobi, Kenya. The event took place in a hybrid format, with virtual participation available for those who could not attend in person.

Priority areas for implementation decided

The resumed first global meeting built on its June 2021 virtual segment, which began work on the prioritization of thematic areas under Montevideo Programme V and set up the governance structure for the Programme’s implementation. The Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) summary of the resumed meeting notes that in addition to setting priorities for the Programme’s work, delegates agreed that in focusing on climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, “Montevideo Programme V will, among other things, seek to help countries with legal responses to implement their obligations under the relevant multilateral environment agreements (MEAs),” including the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the Basel Convention on Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes, “while cooperating with the MEA secretariats to avoid duplication of efforts and ensure synergies.”

The cross-cutting activities to support integrated legal responses to address the three planetary crises include: enhancing access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision making, and access to justice in environmental matters; and strengthening education and capacity building in environmental law.

NFPs also discussed and provided guidance on proposed criteria for assessing requests for legal technical assistance under Montevideo Programme V. The ENB summary of the meeting indicates that following the first segment of NFPs’ global meeting, the Secretariat has started providing technical assistance on regulating air pollution. The summary notes that there is strong interest among countries in continuing to receive such assistance – as well as assistance in other areas now that a trust fund for the Programme has been established.

Roadmap on air pollution, more to come  

During the June 2022 meeting, NFPs also reviewed and provided feedback on a roadmap prepared by the Secretariat for the initial priority area identified in June 2021 – that of air pollution. One of the roadmap’s stated objectives is to “serve as a model for the implementation of other priority areas.” It outlines a strategy to support countries in strengthening, developing, and implementing “appropriate legal instruments and frameworks” and in building capacity to “prevent, reduce and control air pollution in collaboration with relevant partners and stakeholders.” The roadmap further identifies key activities and outputs, including the 2 September 2021 launch of the First Global Assessment on Air Pollution Legislation, along with future activities leading up to the second global meeting of NFPs.

Having broadly welcomed “the first steps taken and work underway to advise countries on adopting or improving their air quality legislation,” NFPs requested the Secretariat to prepare similar roadmaps for the other issues approved at the meeting’s resumed session – climate change, biodiversity, and waste, as well as compliance and enforcement to address pollution.

Engaging stakeholders through partnerships

Also under consideration in Nairobi were parameters for Programme partnerships across the UN and with other relevant entities in the field of environmental law. NFPs considered a series of questions on a future partnership and stakeholder engagement strategy under the Programme, developed by the Secretariat to guide the discussion.

NFPs from a number of countries called for, inter alia: broad stakeholder engagement and involvement in the Programme; promoting experience, knowledge, and information sharing; promoting synergies between the Programme and its partners and stakeholders; and ensuring inclusivity so the voices of all relevant stakeholders at the national, regional, and international levels are heard. They suggested that stakeholder engagement in the Programme context be guided by time-bound, action-oriented, and concrete partnerships, state responsibility, common but differentiated responsibilities, transparency, accountability, effective communication, and collaborative leadership, among other principles. Other recommendations included increasing the visibility of the Montevideo Programme within the UN system and forging partnerships with stakeholders such as academia, the judiciary, jurists, and youth.

Taking this input into account, the Secretariat will now develop a strategy on partnerships for consideration by the Programme’s Steering Committee at its next meeting, tentatively scheduled for October 2022.

Way forward

Among its accomplishments, the first global meeting, convening in two segments over the course of 2021 and 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, can boast the establishment of the Steering Committee to guide Programme work, the selection of three thematic priority areas for implementation, and guidance to the Secretariat on the preparation of a set of roadmaps for the work plan. The Programme’s focus on climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss provides a strong indication of its relevance for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its SDGs. As Arnold Kreilhuber, Deputy Director of the Law Division at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) indicated in closing, the resumed global meeting’s achievements demonstrate “how environmental law is showing its transformative role in responding to the planetary crisis we are all experiencing.”

Montevideo Programme V envisions biennial global meetings of NFPs. Between now and the second global meeting, the date and venue for which are yet to be set, work will continue to refine and support specific activities within the three thematic areas. Efforts to promote the development and implementation of environmental rule of law in the areas of climate change, biodiversity, and pollution and to strengthen related capacities can support SDGs 13 (climate action), 14 (life below water), and 15 (life on land) and, through partnerships, underpin the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda as a whole. As Brazil’s NFP pointed out on behalf of the Latin America and Caribbean Group (GRULAC), it is imperative that as the Programme enters full implementation mode, all work “be aligned with the 2030 Agenda.”