by IISD's SDG Knowledge Hub,

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

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

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

Montevideo Programme: forty years in action

The first Montevideo Programme, adopted by the UNEP GC in 1982, served as a “strategic guidance plan for fulfilling UNEP’s mandate to undertake activities regarding the conclusion of international agreements and the development of international principles, guidelines, and standards.” Its five parts were: subject areas, objectives, and strategies; elements of strategy; methods of implementation, review, and follow up; general development of environmental law; and specific recommendations for initial action. Major subject areas included: marine pollution from land-based surfaces; protection of the stratospheric ozone layer; and transport and handling and disposal of toxic and dangerous wastes. Other subject areas 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 UN Conference on Environment and Development. Its 18 programme areas detailed their respective objectives, strategies, and activities for the Programme. These areas included: implementation of international legal instruments in the environmental field; dispute avoidance and settlement; transboundary air pollution control; management of coastal areas; and international cooperation in environmental emergencies.

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

The fourth Montevideo Programme, adopted by the UNEP GC in 2009, covered 27 programme areas, each consisting of an objective, strategy, and set of actions. These programme areas were organized in four clusters: effectiveness of environmental law; conservation, management, and sustainable use of natural resources, including fresh and marine water, aquatic living resources, forests, biodiversity, and sustainable production and consumption patterns; challenges for environmental law such as climate change, poverty, pollution prevention and control, and new technology; and the relationship with other fields, including human rights.

The fifth Montevideo Programme was adopted by UNEA in March 2019. Running from January 2020 to December 2029, Montevideo Programme V is being implemented “in a manner fully consistent with relevant UNEP medium-term strategies.” The UNEP medium-term strategy for the period 2018-2021 identified seven priority focus areas: climate change; resilience to disasters and conflicts; healthy and productive ecosystems; environmental governance; chemicals, waste, and air quality; resource efficiency; and environment under review. The UNEP medium-term strategy for the period 2022-2025 focuses on developing responses and deploying solutions to achieve three interlinked strategic objectives: climate stability, where net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and resilience in the face of climate change are achieved; living 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 Programme V: objectives and strategies

The Fifth Montevideo Environmental Law Programme 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 enhanced capacity building for increased effectiveness of environmental law for all stakeholders at all levels;
  • Support governments in the development and implementation of environmental rule of law; and
  • Promote the role of environmental law in the context of effective environmental governance.

The UNEP is working with national focal points and a Steering Committee for Implementation, in partnership with UN agencies, intergovernmental organizations, civil society organizations (CSOs), the private sector, and academia, on the following strategic activities under the Programme:

  • Provide countries with practical guidance, tools, innovative approaches and resources, including effective law models and approaches, as well as best practices and model indicators;
  • Develop and promote information and data exchange among legal stakeholders;
  • Promote public participation, access to information, and access to justice in environmental matters;
  • Promote the recognition of the mutually reinforcing relationship between environmental law and the three pillars of the UN Charter;
  • Support collaboration and partnerships;
  • Encourage and facilitate education on environmental law;
  • Support environmental law awareness-raising 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 Programme

Following the online segment of the first Global Meeting of National Focal Points to Montevideo Programme V, which took place from 2-4 June 2021, its second segment is convening at the UN Office in Nairobi, Kenya, from 6-9 June 2022. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, with virtual participation available for those who cannot attend in person.

Having adopted “legal responses to address the air pollution crisis” as an initial priority area for the Programme’s implementation during the first segment of the meeting, national focus points will continue deliberations on key arrangements and strategic guidance for Montevideo Programme V, including the full set of priority areas for implementation and guiding elements for the promotion of partnerships under the Programme.

The meeting documents can be found on the Law and Environment Assistance Platform (LEAP), which was launched at 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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