Guidance Note: Environmental Law Program to Identify Priorities for Legal Responses | SDG Knowledge Center

A global meeting of National Focal Points of the Fifth Montevideo Environmental Law Program (Montevideo Program V) is considering legal responses to today’s pressing environmental challenges. Taking place just a few days after Stockholm+50, the meeting is expected to define priority areas for the implementation of the programme. This policy brief highlights the role of the intergovernmental initiative in supporting sustainable development, its history and its achievements.

Environmental law that transforms science-based policies into action-oriented rules and standards of conduct is the foundation of environmental sustainability. Promoting the development and implementation of international environmental law is one of the main mandates of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), created after the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm, Sweden, 5-16 June 1972. In 1982, the UNEP Governing Council (GC) – later replaced by the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) – launched a program that would help organize and coordinate the agency’s environmental law activities.

Renewed every ten years, the Montevideo Program for the Development and Periodic Review of Environmental Law has informed priorities for the development and review of global environmental law for four decades. It has led to a number of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), which were designed under the Program and negotiated under the auspices of UNEP, including the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions (BRS ), which aim to protect human health and the environment. hazardous chemicals and wastes, and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

Montevideo Programme: forty years of action

The first Montevideo Programme, adopted by the UNEP CG in 1982, served as a “strategic blueprint for fulfilling UNEP’s mandate to undertake activities relating to the conclusion of international agreements and the development of principles, guidelines and international standards”. Its five parts were: thematic areas, objectives and strategies; strategy elements; methods of implementation, review and follow-up; general development of environmental law; and specific recommendations for initial action. Key topics discussed included: marine pollution from land surfaces; protection of the stratospheric ozone layer; and transportation, handling and disposal of toxic and hazardous wastes. Other topics discussed included international cooperation in environmental emergencies, coastal zone management and soil conservation.

The second Montevideo Programme, adopted by the UNEP GC in 1993, was inspired by Agenda 21 – the main outcome of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Its 18 program areas detailed their respective objectives, strategies and activities for the Programme. These areas included: the implementation of international legal instruments in the field of the environment; dispute prevention and resolution; transboundary air pollution control; coastal zone management; and international cooperation in environmental emergencies.

The Third Montevideo Agenda was adopted by the UNEP CG in 2001. Its 20 components were organized around three main themes: effectiveness of environmental law; conservation and management, which focused on freshwater resources, biological diversity and production and consumption patterns; and the relationship with other areas, including trade, security and military activities.

The Fourth Montevideo Agenda, adopted by the UNEP CG in 2009, covered 27 program areas, each consisting of an objective, a strategy and a set of actions. These program areas have been organized into four clusters: Effectiveness of Environmental Law; the conservation, management and sustainable use of natural resources, including fresh and marine water, living aquatic resources, forests, biodiversity and sustainable production and consumption patterns; challenges to environmental law such as climate change, poverty, pollution prevention and control, and new technologies; and the relationship with other areas, including human rights.

The Fifth Montevideo Program was adopted by UNEA in March 2019. Running from January 2020 to December 2029, the Montevideo Program V is implemented “in a manner fully consistent with UNEP’s medium-term strategies “. UNEP’s medium-term strategy for the period 2018-2021 identified seven priority areas: climate change; disaster and conflict resilience; healthy and productive ecosystems; environmental governance; chemicals, waste and air quality; resource efficiency; and environment under study. UNEP’s medium-term strategy for the period 2022-2025 focuses on developing responses and deploying solutions to achieve three interrelated strategic objectives: climate stability, where net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and resilience to climate change are achieved; live in harmony with nature; and towards a pollution-free planet, where pollution is prevented and controlled, while ensuring good environmental quality and improved health and well-being for all.

Montevideo V Programme: objectives and strategies

Montevideo’s Fifth Environmental Law Program aims to:

  • Support the development of adequate and effective environmental legislation and legal frameworks at all levels to address environmental issues;
  • Strengthen the effective implementation of environmental law at the national level;
  • Support capacity building for increased effectiveness of environmental law for all stakeholders at all levels;
  • Support governments in the development and implementation of the environmental rule of law; and
  • Promote the role of environmental law in the context of effective environmental governance.

UNEP is working with national focal points and an implementation steering committee, in partnership with UN agencies, intergovernmental organizations, civil society organizations (CSOs), the private sector and academia, on the following strategic activities under the program:

  • Provide countries with practical advice, tools, innovative approaches and resources, including effective legal models and approaches, as well as best practices and model indicators;
  • Develop and promote the exchange of information and data between legal actors;
  • Promote public participation, access to information and access to justice in environmental matters;
  • Promote recognition of the mutually reinforcing relationship between environmental law and the three pillars of the United Nations Charter;
  • Support collaboration and partnerships;
  • Encourage and facilitate education on environmental law;
  • Support environmental law awareness initiatives at different levels;
  • Encourage research on emerging environmental issues and the relationship between environmental law and related legal fields; and
  • Promote training in the field of environmental law.

National focal points provide guidance to the Program

After the online segment of the first global meeting of national focal points for the Montevideo V programme, which took place from June 2 to 4, 2021, its second segment is meeting at the United Nations office in Nairobi, Kenya, from June 6 as of June 9, 2022. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, with virtual attendance available for those unable to attend in person.

After adopting “legal responses to address the air pollution crisis” as the initial priority area for program implementation during the first segment of the meeting, the national focal points will continue deliberations on the key provisions and strategic directions for the Montevideo V programme, including the full set of priority areas for implementation and guiding elements for fostering partnerships under the Programme.

Meeting materials are available on the Law and Environment Assistance Platform (LEAP), which was launched during the virtual segment in June. Read here Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) coverage of the resumed first global meeting of national focal points for the fifth Montevideo programme.

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