Tools for negotiators of multilateral environmental agreements

The UEF-UN Environment Course on Multilateral Environmental Agreements provided current and future negotiators with practical insight into negotiation situations.

Christabel Chilekwa Mibenge and Augusta Cundari sought for an international perspective and tools designed for the field of environmental agreements.

“I gained plenty of new tools for the future development of national and regional legislation in order for them to better meet international expectations. For instance, our national forest legislation should better observe the human rights of indigenous peoples,” says Augusta Cundari, a lawyer from Argentina.

Organised by the University of Eastern Finland Law School and the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment), she joined the course on multilateral environmental agreements and diplomacy to supplement her expertise. The course was held in Joensuu on 20–30 August.

The course focused on transferring tacit knowledge from seasoned diplomats and experts to current and future negotiators of multilateral environmental agreements.  This year, the environment and human rights were in a specific focus.

According to Cundari who works as a legal expert in the Argentinian Ministry of Agriculture, the theme is highly topical in Argentine, as there, too, conflicts have arisen between indigenous peoples and private forest owners who use the country's forest resources.

“In my work, I have encountered violations of the human rights of indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples have the right to forests, which constitute part of their culture and way of life, and we need to continue our work to improve national legislation in this field.”


Existing human rights agreements are applied to environmental issues

Environmental human rights do not come under an international agreement of their own.

“Nor can we expect one in the field of environmental law anytime soon in the near future. Instead, it is a common practice to apply existing human rights agreements to environmental issues,” says Senior Lecturer Tuula Honkonen, one of the course teachers.

Tensions rise when several countries feel that an issue is national and when various different national tools are employed to promote environmental human rights.  For example, the rights of indigenous peoples have caused friction in international negotiations also in the environmental sector.

According to Tuula Honkonen, environmental impact assessment (EIA) is a good example of a legal instrument used in Finland to promote the realisation of environmental human rights.

Environmental human rights can be discerned in international agreements through interpretation and various obligations. On the UEF-UN Environment course, experienced environmental negotiators presented numerous case examples relating to the environment and human rights.

“The lecturers gave plenty of examples from their home countries, including how the cases were solved. It was good to gain some perspective to the fact that similar things are happening also outside Argentina,” Cundari said.

New viewpoints from case examples

Christabel Chilekwa Mibenge from Zambia works in the country's Ministry of Health, dealing with issues relating to environmental health. She emphasises that in the future, it will be increasingly important to pay attention to the effects of the environment and climate change on human health.

“Many factors that determine our health are related to the environment. They are also linked to human rights, such as the right to a clean environment, food that is safe, and sufficient protection. It has been enlightening to see how human rights issues are linked to international, multilateral environmental agreements.”

The number and diversity of the case examples covered on the course took her by surprise.

“During the course, listening to the various experts from all over the world gave me a new perspective to multilateral environmental agreements. The negotiation simulation, on the other hand, taught me the kinds of practical negotiation skills that I need in my current work,” Chilekwa Mibenge says, delighted.

Negotiation simulations teach practical skills

This year, the course participants got to hone their negotiation skills in a simulation of the negotiations for the Paris Climate Agreement. In the simulation, the participants represented fictional countries with pre-determined instructions on each country’s goals and their personal bargaining positions.

“In the negotiation simulation, the things learned during the course can be put to practice. A situation that mimics real negotiations is a safe environment for rehearsing one’s skills,” Honkonen says.

The negotiation simulation allowed the course participants to put the things they had learned to practice.

The course participants negotiated on the formulations of the agreement text in smaller groups. In the end, a joint closing session summed up the groups’ outcomes, and solutions to text formulations that remained open were sought.

“The students have been very excited and immersed in their roles. It’s very much like following real negotiations.”

According to Augusta Cundari and Christabel Chilekwa Mibenge, the students’ different backgrounds constituted a strength in the negotiation simulation.

“We supplemented one another and our diversity made the dialogue richer. On a wider scale, we shared a common goal: to protect the environment.”

This year saw the 15th UEF-UN Environment course. The course promotes the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030) by supporting the implementation of sustainable development. In particular, the course supports developing countries’ capacity to fully participate in environmental negotiations and to implement the commitments of environmental agreements.