Policy Integration for Sustainable Development through Multilateral Environmental Agreements: An Empirical Analysis, 2007-2016.

Author:Azizi, Dona
Position:The Global Forum - Report

1 Introduction

Over the past three decades, (1) the integration of policies from different areas has become a central objective of sustainability governance, nationally as well as internationally. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (2) has added new impetus to the aim of integrating environmental sustainability, social development, and economic growth; that is, sustainability policy integration. Renewed emphasis has been placed as well on the integration of environmental policies; that is, environmental policy integration. (3) While the Sustainable Development Goals build on the traditional "pillars" of sustainable development (4)--environment, society and economy--together, they are intended to constitute one "integrated and indivisible" (5) package. In that sense, the Sustainable Development Goals pose a "considerable widening of the integration challenge" (6) for institutions such as multilateral environmental agreements. (7) As key international institutions for addressing global environmental issues, (8) multilateral environmental agreements must play a significant role in overall policy integration. (9)

However, multilateral environmental agreements often operate in silos, which hinders policy integration. Also, multilateral environmental agreements are often distinct in membership and mandates, partially because they have been crafted at different times and in response to different issues by different groups of countries. (10) Specialized governmental ministries often negotiate or implement these agreements without much concern for other ministries that are responsible for other agreements and policies. Moreover, powerful parties to these agreements may have a strategic interest in keeping issues or institutions separate, (11) and international bureaucracies such as treaty secretariats are engaging in what some observe as institutional "turf wars" that prevent policy integration among and beyond multilateral environmental agreements. (12)

Therefore, multilateral environmental agreements are often poorly coordinated with no clear hierarchical order. Numerous treaty bodies and other institutions operate with little formal linkages with each other, and create norms and standards often independently and hardly in an integrated manner. (13) Many multilateral environmental agreements thus conflict with each other, with some that are unable to adjust to and cooperate with the work of other international institutions. (14) Such treaty conflicts may manifest in negative spillovers, problem shifting, or legal inconsistencies, and, hence, a system of agreements that operates at a suboptimal level. (15) Therefore, researchers and policymakers alike are concerned about institutional fragmentation in earth system governance. (16) And yet, despite this general understanding of the adverse consequences of the lack of sufficient institutional interlinkages or cooperative interaction, (17) institutional silos and policy disintegration seem to persist.

Yet is this picture too gloomy? Little systematic knowledge is available, we argue, about the extent to which treaty bodies of multilateral environmental agreements actually seek to integrate interdependent yet institutionally fragmented environmental, social, and economic issues into their decisionmaking. (18) For example, we know from a previous study that the network of multilateral environmental agreements is modular in structure. (19) The observed structure conforms to the conventional organization of law with its clusters of agreements correlating highly with underlying legal semantics. (20) It is unknown, however, whether the gaps between these clusters have been bridged through the subsequent work of their treaty bodies such as the conferences of the parties or treaty secretariats. Often these treaty bodies are obliged to coordinate and cooperate with treaty bodies of other multilateral environmental agreements. (21) But did this lead actually to more policy integration between multilateral environmental agreements?

This article seeks to address this research gap through an exploratory analysis of sustainability and environmental policy integration in a group of key multilateral environmental agreements. We map environmental, social, and economic issue areas in the decisions of multilateral environmental agreements, assess varying degrees of policy integration, and discuss implications for global governance toward sustainable development.

Normatively, we follow the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals that strive for an integrated consideration of environmental, social, and economic concerns. We define policy integration as a process through which institutions, such as multilateral environmental agreements, incorporate into their decision-making issues that stand beyond their own specialization. (22) We draw on previous studies on policy integration within single environmental areas, such as biodiversity loss (23) or climate change, (24) but also on those covering a few connected environmental areas such as forests, agriculture, climate, and energy. (25) We aim to contribute to the literature on policy integration in the field of sustainable development, (26) focusing in particular on policy integration for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. (27) This study also supports ongoing efforts in improving interinstitutional cooperation (28) through a greater consideration of cross-regime sensitivities. (29)

Covering the years from 2007 to 2016, we explored two key questions. First, to what extent have multilateral environmental agreements in their decisions tried to integrate environmental, economic, and social areas of sustainable development? Second, to what extent have multilateral environmental agreements in their decisions tried to integrate other environmental issue areas? We draw on evidence from forty-seven multilateral environmental agreements and their decision documents, which resulted from 164 meetings of their main decision-making bodies.

The article is structured as follows. After this introduction, we elaborate on the methodology and how we designed and implemented the empirical analysis. We then discuss results in two sections. First, we analyze to what extent the forty-seven multilateral environmental agreements have integrated environmental, social, and economic issues in their decisions over time. Second, we study the integration of different environmental issue areas in decisions by these forty-seven multilateral environmental agreements over time. The results are followed by a discussion where we reflect on the results in light of the Sustainable Development Goals and the draft Global Pact for the Environment. Finally, we summarize the results and provide suggestions for future research.

2 Research Design and Methods

To analyze policy integration of multilateral environmental agreements, we conducted a quantitative keyword-reference analysis on forty-seven multilateral environmental agreements for the period of 2007 to 2016. The keyword reference analysis is an advanced type of context analysis, (30) useful for comparing documents on their similarity (31) and further allowing researchers to analyze word frequencies in lexicographic studies. (32) We used the presence of certain keywords in treaty decision texts or the equivalent as an indicator of issue couplings to other environmental issues or other non-environmental pillars of sustainable development. These keyword references found in treaty decisions do not necessarily imply an institutionalized form of policy integration. However, these references create issue linkages that often advance and reflect a "soft form" of policy integration. Therefore, we argue that these keyword references provide useful means for mapping and assessing the extent of policy integration between multilateral environmental agreements. For example, the decisions adopted by the twelfth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity contain several references to other environmental issues such as climate change or other issues such as health, most of which appear in dedicated decisions on these topics. (33) We consider such references as reflecting efforts of treaty bodies to consider the nature of linkages across policy issues or domains and strengthen sustainability or environmental policy integration.

Selecting multilateral environmental agreements for this empirical analysis was not straightforward, given that the literature lacks a clear definition of multilateral environmental agreements (34) and not the least the huge number of multilateral environmental agreements (over 1,300 at present). (35) To ensure objectivity and reliability in the selection as well as broad representation of multilateral environmental agreements related to the Sustainable Development Goals, we chose the dataset on multilateral environmental agreements provided by the database InforMEA. (36) This database is an initiative of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and included in 2018 fifty-three multilateral environmental agreements. Due to the unavailability of documents on decisions, however, we had to exclude six multilateral environmental agreements from the analysis, leading to a final sample of forty-seven multilateral environmental agreements.

For the analysis of sustainability policy integration, all forty-seven agreements were considered as concerned with the environmental pillar. Therefore, we did not differentiate the agreements into subgroups. For the analysis of environmental policy integration, however, we were interested in measuring the degree of integration between different issue clusters of multilateral environmental agreements. We thus classified the forty-seven agreements into six categories of specialization; namely, atmosphere, biodiversity, chemicals, climate, land, and oceans. Based on this...

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