This summer, the United Nations launched a website with important implications for the future of international environmental law. InforMEA, the United Nations Portal on Multilateral Environmental Agreements brings together information relating to 17 multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) from 12 Secretariats hosted by three UN organizations and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is also open to nongovernmental observers involved in MEA information and data management. The portal will contain decisions, resolutions, and recommendations from conferences and meetings of the parties (COPs and MOPs), calendars, news and events, and certain national contacts. It will also harmonize information from across the MEAs, so that information is more easily accessible and usable. Elsewhere, I have written about the significance of COP and MOP activity. This portal will bring this activity together in one place, in easily accessible format.
Why is this move so significant? It has the potential to affect three areas of current concern to international environmental lawyers: sectoral fragmentation, the relationship between international law and domestic law, and accountability.
First, the portal might help us manage the sectoral fragmentation we see in international law, particularly in international environmental law. Many commentators have worried that connections among treaties that have substantial overlap are weak or completely lacking. This can lead to, at best, unnecessary duplication and, at worst, one subject matter treaty undermining the goals of another treaty that deals with a different subject matter. Worries about the effects of climate change mitigation efforts on biodiversity are a good example of this. This portal offers the potential for those interested to find avenues for coordination and linkages as they see what all the MEAs are working on.
Second, information that is more accessible is also more useful to national authorities. As international environmental law is increasingly connected to domestic law and implementation, this accessibility will be key. Sustainability requires recognition of local context and localized activities, as well as some international coordination of information and sharing of experience. The role of international environmental law as a clearinghouse of information is greatly enhanced by this portal.
Third, the amount of activity undertaken by the COPs and MOPs of MEAS, as well as various technical bodies, has created concern about accountability. NYU’s Global Administrative Law Project is an example of one response to this concern. This portal can enhance informal accountability because it will now be much easier to find out what COPs, MOPs, and various technical bodies are doing. The participation of nongovernmental observers is important for this, but the portal’s openness to the world at large is also key here.
Interestingly, a search on the portal under the subject category “Issues common to MEA’s” yielded no results under treaties or decisions! But maybe this portal will start to change that. How much this portal can do will depend ultimately both on how much information it has and how committed various stakeholders are to using it. But it offers real promise. International environmental lawyers, watch this space: http://informea.org/