Combatting climate change and protecting natural resources: In support of the 2023 ECOSOC cycle of work and in preparation for its upcoming 22nd session (2023), the CEPA working group will review institutional mechanisms for providing economic, financial, and structural support to address climate change, reduce the use of fossil fuels and protect biodiversity.
The CEPA working group on issues of governance and institution-building in conflict-affected countries will also take up the question of responding to the effects of climate change in institution-building efforts in fragile countries and countries emerging from conflict.
Climate change and biodiversity loss remain major global challenges threatening food security and human well-being worldwide. Progress towards achieving SDGs 13, 14, and 15 has stagnated or deteriorated across all regions of the world. This poor performance is due in large part to institutional factors. The Committee decided to study the institutional challenges and opportunities related to climate action and the protection of natural resources, both on land and under water, for the first time in preparation for its 21st session (2022).
An informal working group examined in particular the ways in which institutions and partnerships could be engaged to achieve SDG 13 (combating climate change), SDG 14 (conserving the oceans, seas and marine resources) and SDG 15 (protecting terrestrial ecosystems and halting biodiversity loss), as well as the related targets and metrics for reviewing progress towards those Goals.
Recognizing the importance of technical analysis in this area, the working group consulted a number of scientific experts, including representatives of the Statistics Division of UN DESA specializing in the System of Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA) and of the Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center of the United States Geological Survey, as well as officials involved in the twenty-sixth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26).
Recent CEPA observations and insights
Climate change mitigation and adaptation call for technical and programmatic shifts as well as reform of institutional structures, cultures, and capacities. The fragmentation of responsibility for combating climate change and for the sustainable management, protection and restoration of natural resources is found to be a major institutional barrier to the achievement of SDGs 13, 14 and 15. Governments are encouraged to prioritize the establishment or strengthening of mechanisms for policy coherence, inter alia, through the promotion of ecosystem management and territorial development approaches within and across administrative boundaries. Simplified regulatory frameworks and a clear distribution of responsibilities across all levels of government are part of the solution. (CEPA 21st session, 2022)
Regarding the private sector, policy processes and regulation could be supported by a more effective mix of taxes and subsidies. Environmental accounting is key for creating such market-based incentives and promoting transparency and accountability. Metrics are required to measure natural capital, paired with effective monitoring mechanisms. Adaptation and international coordination of standards will be required to account for the uneven playing field for developed and developing countries. Improved access to international climate finance, public-private partnerships and private sector resource mobilization by subnational governments are also seen as important enablers. (CEPA 21st session, 2022)
A shift in mindset is also required to change behaviours and promote practices that improve human health and well-being while protecting the natural habitat. While there appears to be an overall desire to protect biodiversity and combat climate change globally, it can be difficult for political leaders to make a compelling case for change to local populations facing crises, such as floods, droughts and food shortages, even though these are frequently related to climate change. (CEPA 21st session, 2022)
Many cities have grown beyond the boundaries of their central municipality. This unbridled expansion adversely affects biodiversity and environmental sustainability in rural areas, particularly through permissive land-use planning or when urbanization is not well-planned and managed. Natural capital accounting could play an important role in this respect at the subnational level. (CEPA 21st session, 2022)
What action does ECOSOC recommend?
ECOSOC notes with concern that the fragmentation of responsibility for combating climate change and for the sustainable management, protection and restoration of natural resources can be a major institutional barrier to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals 13, 14 and 15, and encourages Governments to prioritize the establishment and strengthening of mechanisms for policy coherence to this end, inter alia, through the promotion of ecosystem management and territorial development approaches within and across administrative boundaries (ECOSOC resolution 2022/9, para. 7).
ECOSOC also notes with concern that there is an insufficient appreciation of the value of the environment in many countries, and urges Governments to build the capacity of the public sector in natural capital accounting based on the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting, as well as strengthen the accountability of public institutions with regard to environmental protection by including an assessment of the state of natural resources under their jurisdiction as part of regular performance assessments (ECOSOC resolution 2022/9, para. 8).
Technical guidance for government officials
See also: UN statistical framework for ecosystem accounting
Expert papers on this topic (2016-present)
Institutional challenges and opportunities related to climate change and the protection of natural resources (E/C.16/2022/3, 20 January 2022)
Building strong institutions for addressing climate change and for the sustainable management of natural resources (conference room paper, 21 December 2021)