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MEA Bulletin - Guest Article No. 60b - Thursday, 18 December 2008
Streamlined Reporting for Pacific Island Countries (PICs) to the Biodiversity-Related MEAs: Development of a Consolidated Reporting Template
By Melissa Jaques*
National reporting is an important and necessary requirement for most multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). For some countries, however, particularly those with small environment agencies - as is the case for many Pacific Island countries (PICs) - fulfilling national reporting requirements can be difficult and resource-intensive.

The Australian Government, with funding provided by the Australian Agency for International Development, is working in collaboration with the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) to streamline national reporting for PICs to the biodiversity-related MEAs. A consolidated reporting template for use by PICs to five of the biodiversity-related MEAs was developed and trialled in 2008. The template is designed to facilitate reporting by reducing duplication and by making the process simpler and less resource-intensive.

The following biodiversity-related MEAs are covered by the template:

  • Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD);
  • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES);
  • Convention on Migratory Species (CMS);
  • Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar); and
  • World Heritage Convention (WHC).

The template represents a practical example of how national reporting can be streamlined and is consistent with requests made by Contracting Parties to the Secretariats of these MEAs to explore options to harmonise national reporting.

Structure of the template

The template was drafted through a consultative process involving Australian Government agencies, PICs, SPREP, and the United Nations Environment Programme - World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). It is based on a concept proposed in 2002 by the United Nations Secretary-General for the harmonisation of the human rights treaty system. The premise behind this concept is that  ‘each State should be allowed to produce a single report summarising its adherence to the full range of international human rights treaties to which it is a party’ (United Nations Secretary-General, 2002).

The template applies this concept to the biodiversity-related MEAs - the reporting requirements for the five MEAs have been consolidated and simplified into one template. This means that parties would develop only one national report per reporting period (potentially every three years) and this report would serve as the national report for any of the five biodiversity-related MEAs to which that country is party. The primary benefits of this include:

  • a reporting template that is tailored to meet the reporting capacity of PICs;
  • a reduction in the amount of time spent by PICs undertaking national reporting to these MEAs; and
  • a simplified structure that reduces duplication yet still allows for tracking of PICs’ progress and achievements in implementing these MEAs.

A key source of information for this project has been studies completed by UNEP and UNEP-WCMC on the harmonisation of national reporting to the biodiversity-related MEAs. Their work was used as a basis to determine the structure of the template. The template has a ‘core’ section containing general questions that are designed to be completed by all countries. There are five ‘supplementary information’ sections in addition to the core section – one section for each of the five MEAs – that request information specific to each MEA and that could not be incorporated into the core section. As not all PICs are Contracting Parties to each of the five MEAs, they will only be required to complete the supplementary information sections for the MEAs to which they are party. For example, Samoa is party to all five of the MEAs and would therefore fill in the entire template; the Cook Islands, however, is party only to the CBD and CMS, so they would complete the core section of the template, then the supplementary information for only the CBD and CMS.

The questions in the template request information on national legislation, strategies, polices and activities undertaken to implement the biodiversity-related MEAs, as well as an overview of the status, trends and threats to biodiversity. As this information will be incorporated into one document, it facilitates communication and dissemination of a broad range of national biodiversity information to the MEA Secretariats as well as other interested stakeholders such as NGOs and the general public. 

Trial of the template

The template was successfully trialled in 2008 in the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati and Samoa. The objective of the trial was to ‘road-test’ the template to determine its suitability for use in the Pacific. The trial involved consultation with national governments and other stakeholders in these countries to:

  • assess the suitability of the questions in the template;
  • assess whether the template captures the current achievements and obstacles in implementing the biodiversity-related MEAs in PICs;
  • gain an understanding of national data and information management systems as well as how information is collated and stored in these countries;
  • identify gaps and difficulties in reporting to MEAs in PICs, including difficulties with data collation and information management; and
  • gain an understanding of how a consolidated reporting process might be coordinated across government, non-government organisations and the private sector in PICs.

The results of the trial were positive. The template provided a cost-effective approach to gathering information to enable the countries to report on key areas of the MEAs covered, and was considered to be a user-friendly tool. 

Next steps

Implementation of this project across the region could present a major step forward in improving biodiversity outcomes and reporting compliance in the Pacific. It could improve PICs’ capacity to undertake reporting, improve their national biodiversity knowledge and data management, and provide a mechanism to disseminate biodiversity information more broadly across the Pacific.

PICs have expressed their strong support for the project and have called for the trial of the template to be extended to more countries in the region. There is also an increasing level of interest in the project beyond the region, particularly from Asia and Africa.

The template will be made available for comment to the Secretariats of the biodiversity-related MEAs in early 2009.

*Melissa Jaques works as a policy officer in the Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts in Canberra. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not represent nor reflect the official position of any government or organisation.

Reference

United Nations Secretary-General (2002) Strengthening the United Nations: an agenda for further change, Internet.
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