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MEA Bulletin - Guest Article No. 44 - Thursday, 3 April 2008
Managing knowledge among the biodiversity-related agreements
By Peter Herkenrath (UNEP-WCMC), Elizabeth Mrema and Balakrishna Pisupati (UNEP DELC)
UNEP, through its Division of Environmental Law and Conventions (DELC) and UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC), has been executing a project on knowledge management among biodiversity-related agreements since 2006. We have worked with the biodiversity-related Secretariats of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and its Indian Ocean - South-East Asian Marine Turtle MoU (IOSEA) and African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), and Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. The project’s objective has been to strengthen the implementation of biodiversity-related agreements through the strategic use of information (see http://www.iisd.ca/mea-l/guestarticle9.htm). The project has built upon the results of the UNEP/CITES/WCMC workshop with the Secretariats of the above-mentioned multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) in June 2006 in Cambridge (see MEA Bulletin 8, 26 June 2006; http://www.iisd.ca/mea-l/meabulletin8.pdf). The project has taken action related to three major issues. It has established an Internet-based knowledge management portal allowing access to key documents of the biodiversity-related agreements (articles, decisions and resolutions, strategic plans, focal point information, parties); established an online reporting tool for CMS, AEWA and the CITES biennial reports; and conducted desk studies on various options for harmonization of reporting between those agreements.

To follow up on these actions, UNEP DELC and WCMC convened a workshop with the Secretariats of the six MEAs from 7-9 March 2008 in Cambridge, UK. The aim of the workshop was to receive guidance from the Secretariats in terms of reviewing the status of the Knowledge Management project and identifying future work on knowledge management among the biodiversity-related agreements. The workshop also examined links and relation with the Tematea project on the development of issue-based modules for coherent implementation of biodiversity-related conventions, executed jointly by UNEP through its DELC, and IUCN through the Countdown 2010 Programme (see http://www.tematea.org), and the work of the UN Environment Management Group (http://www.unemg.org) on synergies between MEAs.

The workshop acknowledged that the work undertaken by the knowledge management project provides a significant step towards a harmonized system of knowledge management for the biodiversity-related agreements, which supports Parties in implementation of MEAs. The Workshop also recognized the role played by the Tematea project, in particular its focus on making information about Party obligations and commitments from MEAs available to Parties for their national implementation.

The workshop heard a presentation by the EMG on UN-wide efforts in knowledge management and synergies between agencies and MEAs, linking these issues to the International Environmental Governance process. The EMG highlighted the progressive approach to institutional cooperation – which has connotations for effective knowledge management – amongst the chemical cluster of MEAs. Knowledge management among the biodiversity-related agreements should form part of the UN-wide activities and the latter could add value to the MEA approaches.

Discussions on the Knowledge Management portal focused on its usefulness for Parties. The meeting was informed by the interoperability efforts between the Rio Conventions, who share information on national focal points and events (see http://www.cbd.int/rio/). It was agreed to further develop the portal (including with French and Spanish versions) prior to launching it at the ninth Conference of the Parties to the CBD in May 2008. In the longer term, a strategy on knowledge management for the biodiversity-related MEAs should be drafted, viewing the efforts as part of the UN-system wide approach to synergies. A follow-up project would need to envisage a wider database with all relevant MEA information as well as an expanded controlled vocabulary.

Within the biodiversity realm, online reporting has so far only been used by IOSEA. The online reporting tool that WCMC has developed within the project allows for easy generation of online reporting facilities for other MEAs and other types of questionnaires. The workshop finished with a training day for the Secretariats of CMS, CITES and AEWA on using the underlying generator tool, in order to allow Secretariats to manage the tool themselves. For a follow-up project, developing a tool that analyses the information reported online is key for the Secretariats. In the longer-term, online reporting would become part of the envisaged system of interoperability of information management among MEAs.

The work of the knowledge management project on harmonization of reporting was seen by participants to have provided the first steps in a longer process. The project explored the feasibility for the biodiversity-related MEAs emulating the approach to reporting by the Human Rights Treaty System, where Parties submit a core report to all treaties and shorter specific reports to the individual treaties. The exploration of a joint reporting framework on inland waters for CBD and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, as undertaken by the project, was seen to be particularly promising, as was harmonization of reporting among the family of CMS Agreements. It was stressed that, given the reporting burden for Parties, coordination at the national level between focal points to the various MEAs is crucial. Participants agreed on the following next steps: drafting a document on preconditions for harmonization of reporting, aimed at Parties, as well as a concept on guidance for national information management.

The new UNEP Medium-term Strategy 2010-2013, as adopted by the UNEP Governing Council in February, acknowledges the role of identifying synergies and linkages between the MEAs. It stresses, as does the Bali Strategic Plan on Technology Support and Capacity-building, the significance of collaborative efforts to build developing countries’ capacity to implement environmental conventions. Using modern technology, a system of interoperable information among the biodiversity-related agreements offers unique chances to enhance MEA implementation if supported by capacity-building efforts for developing countries. It is expected that the governing bodies of the Agreements involved will recognize the value of the knowledge management work, including the role for Parties to test and use its outputs. This should support the value of the knowledge management work, as being explored under the UNEP project and discussed at the Cambridge workshop, for strengthening the capacity of Secretariats and, ultimately, the countries involved with managing natural resources.
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